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From ‘Braceros’ to ‘illegals’: (re)making Mexican ‘migrants’

What happens when the border crosses YOU? This was the position faced by many residents of the US southern borderlands region. And are you an 'immigrant' if you are invited to enter -- perhaps temporarily, perhaps repeatedly, perhaps even every day -- to provide labour? Here we will look at movements across a border that itself moved, by a population that was increasingly racialised and pathologised over the course of the twentieth century. We will also look at the forces motivating state actors and individuals to promote and perform economic migration. NB: This is another week when our Unit 'provocation' article on the transnational turn in American studies will offer additional perspectives on the material.

Required Readings:

Discussion Questions:

  • Who were the key constituents and stakeholders in cross-border migration at the US border with Mexico, and why did each group participate in the Bracero programme?
  • What does it mean to be a 'guest worker' in a 'nation of immigrants'?
  • Compare management of migration at the Southern border with the processes at Ellis and Angel Island: what underlies their similarities/differences?

Background Readings:

Emily K. Abel, ‘From Exclusion to Expulsion: Mexicans and Tuberculosis in Los Angeles, 1914-1940’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 77 (2003): 823-849. E-Journal.

Emily Abel, “‘Only the Best Class of Immigration:’ Public Health Policy Towards Mexicans and Filipinos in Los Angeles, 1910-1940,” American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 94, No. 6 (2004): 932-939.

Lori A. Flores, 'A Town Full of Dead Mexicans: The Salinas Valley Bracero Tragedy of 1963, the End of the Bracero Program, and the Evolution of California's Chicano Movement', Western Historical Quarterly 2, 124, 2013.

Gilbert Gonzalez and Raul Fernandez, “Empire and the Origins of Twentieth Century Migration to the United States,” in Gonzalez and Fernandez, A Century of Chicano History: Empire, Nations and Migration (London: Routledge, 2003).

Gilbert Gonzalez, “Recruiting, Processing and Transporting Bracero Labor to the United States,” in Gilbert Gonzalez, Guest Workers or Colonized Labor? Mexican Labor Migration to the United States, (London: Routledge, 2005).

Carlos González Gutiérrez, 'Fostering Identities: Mexico's Relations with Its Diaspora." The Journal of American History 86, no. 2 (1999): 545-67 ', Article talks about how Mexican govt serves diaspora in USA – could be an interesting pair with some of the pirmary source material on braceros and ‘operation wetback'!

Lilia Fernández, “Of Migrants and Immigrants: Mexican and Puerto Rican Labor Migration in Comparative Perspective, 1942-1964,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 29, No. 3 (2010): 6-39.

Kelly Lyle Hernandez, “The Crimes and Consequences of Illegal Immigration: A Cross-Border Examination of Operation Wetback, 1943-1954,” Western Historical Quarterly (Winter 2006): 421-444.

Eithne Luibheid, Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002).

Michael B. Katz, Mark J. Stern, and Jamie J. Fader, ‘The Mexican Immigration Debate: The View from History’, Social Science History 31: 2 (2007): 157-89.

May M. Ngai, Impossibe Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 2004), esp. Chapter 4. E-book.

Natalia Molina, Fit to Be Citizens? Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

Natalia Molina, “The Myth of the Unassimilable Mexican,” Racism Review, November 28, 2016.

Andrés Reséndez, “National identity on a shifting border: Texas and New Mexico in the age of transition, 1821-1848,” Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 2 (1999): 668-688 + Open Access version

Claudia Sadowski-Smith, 'Unskilled Labor Migration and the Illegality Spiral: Chinese, European, and Mexican Indocumentados in the United States, 1882–2007', American Quarterly, vol. 60 no. 3, 2008, pp. 779-804. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/aq.0.0037

Barbara Schmitter Heisler, 'The "Other Braceros": Temporary Labor and German Prisoners of War in the United States, 1943-1946', Social Science History no. 2 (2007): 239-271.

Alexandra Minna Stern, ‘Buildings, Boundaries, and Blood: Medicalization and Nation-Building on the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1910-1930’, The Hispanic American Historical Review 79 (Feb., 1999), pp. 41-81. JSTOR.

Alexandra Minna Stern, Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in America (Berkeley; UC Press, 2005), esp. Chapter 2: Quarantine and Eugenic Gatekeeping on the US-Mexican Border', Chapter 3 'Instituting Eugenics in California'.

Southern Poverty Law Center, Close to Slavery: Guest Worker Programs in the United States, A Report by the SPLC, 2005, updated version, 2013.

Compare to: Cecilia Tsu, Garden of the World: Asian Immigrants and the Making of Ariculture in California's Santa Clara Valley (Oxford: OUP, 2013).

Electronic Reources:

Galveston immigration database (search this website for 'immigration' too, to find more resources.