The Newberry Library Labor History Seminar, co-sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago and Urbana present:
"Braceros, Wetbacks, and the National Boundaries of Class"
Mae Ngai, University of Chicago
Friday, November 30, 2001,3:30-5
My paper examines the experience of Mexican migrant workers-both braceros (imported contract workers) and undocumented migrants-who worked in California and Southwestern agriculture from World War II to 1964. First, it investigates the bracero program from the perspective of its daily practice-the 'on the ground' experience and interactions of braceros, employers, and US and Mexican governmental agencies. This perspective allows for a "thicker" and more complex understanding of the program. Second, the paper is interested in the connections between bracero and illegal labor, as they were produced by both policy and practice. I argue that braceros were not an isolated workforce but that contract workers, illegal workers, legal immigrant workers, and U.S. citizens of Mexican descent often worked on the same farms, lived in close proximity to one another or in the same communities, and were often even members of the same family. Finally, I am interested in the uneasy and ultimately externalized relationship that this heterogeneous transnational workforce had with the "American working class," and the nationalist tensions that shape d the discourse of critique and opposition to the bracero program by liberals, organized labor, and civil rights organizations.
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