Background

Tx Plate 1929

A License plate from 1929, courtesy of José Angel Gutiérrez

History of Inequality

All over the Southwest, Mexicanos were oppressed and treated unjustly. Mexicanos suffered a period of extreme segregation due to cattle ranching. The cattle ranching system led to a patron-client relationship between Mexicanos and Anglos, but when the cattle ranching system collapsed due to a series of droughts, a migratory labor force of about 300-400,000 Mexicanos arose. In addition, the Mexican-origin population within the United States swelled due to both the Mexican Revolution and Bracero Program, instituted in 1942. However, Texas couldn’t get a bracero contract until 1947 because, according to General Comacho, too many Mexicans were killed by law enforcement officers there. This seasonal farm work cycle prevailed for nearly seventy years and led to exposure to tuberculosis, pesticides, back problems, and the hazards of living on the road. This system of farm labor resulted in Mexican workers being dependent on farmers. One example of unjust treatment is the shotgun contract. This contract allowed farmers to cancel Mexican families’ contracts if the farmer wasn’t going to break even that season. This resulted in the family losing its job, being kicked off of the land, and having their share of the crop confiscated from them.

The rise of Tenant Housing, instituted by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, created temporary cities for Mexican migrant farm workers. This created an ethnic enclave and a pattern of segregation. This segregation systematically kept Mexicanos separated from the language, culture, and structure of Anglo society. They were kept out of Anglo cities and schools. This exclusion led to extreme poverty and a rise in child labor. The migratory work cycle kept Mexicanos on the move, segregated from society, and created an ethnic block of Mexicanness.

Sources: Dr. Miguel Leatham’s lectures from a Mexican-American Folklore Spring 2013 class; Mexican Americans by Scott Ingram

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