Recommendations on the Bracero Program
Digital History ID 604
American GI Forum of Texas and Texas State Federation of Labor
In 1949, the remains of Army Private Felix Longoria were returned from the Philippines to his hometown of Three Rivers, Texas. A local funeral home refused to accept the body because Longoria was Mexican American. Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson ultimately intervened and Longoria was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
At the end of World War II, the poll tax, boss rule, and primaries open only to Anglos kept Mexican Americans in Texas from public office. In 1948, Mexican American veterans in Texas formed the American GI Forum to win the rights that they had fought for in wartime but lacked in peacetime. Led by its founder, Dr. Hector P. Garcia, and its national organizer, Molly Galvan, one of the first Chicanas to achieve political prominence, the GI Forum battled to desegregate South Texas schools and hospitals and ensure that juries were representative of the community. In 1984, Garcia received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1998, two years after his death from stomach cancer, his image appeared on a series of U.S. Saving Bonds.
In the decades since the GI Forum was founded, the civil rights issues facing Mexican Americans have changed greatly. Central now are questions of bilingual education and an equal shares in school funding. In this selection, the American GI Forum argues that the Bracero program depressed wages among migrant farmworkers.
First of all, we want to emphasize that we are opposed to the Bracero Program whenever the braceros brought into the United States displace American citizen workers. We believe that U.S. citizens, if offered comparable wages to those paid braceros, together with the other contract guarantees, will supply a much greater proportion of the agricultural labor needed than at present. But we agree, that where a genuine labor shortage does exist, braceros may be used rather than lose the crop.
But we, the public, must learn not to become infected with the panic that grips the farmer the moment his product is ready to harvest. When his cotton is open, it is almost impossible for him to have too many pickers available. He would like to have it picked immediately, and...it costs no more to pick it with one thousand workers than it does with twenty. Until his harvest is out of the field, he is apt to consider that he has a labor shortage, regardless of the number of hands already in his fields. The same holds true in crops other than cotton.... We must remember that his "critical labor shortage" does not necessarily mean that there are not enough laborers to harvest his crop but may only mean that there are not enough to harvest it as cheaply or as quickly as he would like....
Any employer who offers American citizens only 25 cents an hour is going to be faced with a labor shortage....
Labor shortages must not be certified unless domestic labor has been given a genuine offer of employment under terms, wages and conditions of employment at least equal to those offered foreign workers. If the offer concerns wages only, then the wage should be increased a reasonable amount to compensate for the additional guarantees in the bracero contract....
With a patronizing air, many a self-styled expert on American citizens of Mexican extraction (and many who may have just finished paying off a wetback crew at the rate of 25 cents an hour) has explained that "these Mexicans (meaning American citizens of Mexican extraction) are too lazy to do field work" or that "all they want to do is travel" or that "you can't trust them to do a job right."
What he really means is that American citizens-living in the U.S., paying taxes in the U.S., raising their families in the U.S.=-can't work for 25 cents an hour and manage to survive.
Source: American GI Forum of Texas and Texas State Federation of Labor (AFL), What Price Wetbacks? Austin, Texas, 1953, pp. 1-59.
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