- Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the U.S.-Mexico Border by Ana Elizabeth Rosas
By Ana Elizabeth Rosas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. 280pp. isbn 978-0520282674
Ana Elizabeth Rosas’ Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the U.S.-Mexico Border explores the transnational guest worker experience of Mexican families and braceros that encountered separation, absence, and resiliency in the midst of labor migration. Formally lasting from 1942 to 1964, the U.S. and Mexico engaged in the binational guest worker process known as the Bracero Program, which contracted millions of Mexican men to work primarily in the agricultural industry. Focusing on the families left behind in Mexico, as well as the men that departed for work in the U.S., Abrazando el Espíritu critically engages the Bracero Program by meticulously exploring the perspectives of the women, men, and children that negotiated the consequences of labor migration. Despite the breadth of publications on the Bracero Program, Rosas’ arguments, methods, and source base provide crucial interventions into the historiography on this topic.
At the center of Rosas’ methodology in this work is the focus on the transnational nature of the Bracero Program and its impact on Mexican families. As Rosas demonstrates, it is not enough for scholars of the Bracero Program to only focus on the Mexican men once they begin their work in the U.S. One of the primary arguments of this work is that in order to understand the full contours of this guest worker program, it must be examined from both the Mexican and U.S. side of the border, and the families that remained in Mexico must also be central to any analysis. Moreover, by focusing on wives, children, and other family members of the migrant laborers, Abrazando el Espíritu deviates from the broad policies and practices of the Bracero Program, and instead concentrates on the everyday lives of those impacted by the program. Yet, as Rosas demonstrates, attending to these seemingly mundane processes of separation and resourcefulness can also inform the policies and implementation of the Bracero Program. The author states, “This history reveals that the Mexican and U.S. governments were often far more aggressive in their management of Mexican children, the elderly, and women in Mexico than in their management of Mexican immigrant men and the U.S.-Mexico border” (11). Additionally, this methodological focus on the fluidity of the linkages between families across both sides of the physical border also rejects any master narrative of processes of immigration that result in assimilation and inclusion in the U.S.
While Abrazando el Espíritu emphasizes the obligations, loses, and alienation that resulted from the separation of Mexican families, of equal importance to the argument of this work are the strategies of survival, resistance, and transformation. For example, popular music, love letters, and conversations were mechanisms that Mexican women used to manage the emotional labor of maintaining a transnational relationship with their bracero partners. Other strategies of resistance included individual and collective transformation. Not only did individual women alter and transcend their rigid gender and family roles, but intermediarias (intermediary women) also forged stronger connections among families by facilitating challenging conversations and compromises between women, men, children, and other bracero relatives. Rosas’ engagement with these differing forms of communication and negotiation demonstrates the transnational component of this program by emphasizing the circulation of knowledge and emotions across the physical border of the U.S. and Mexico.
Rosas’ Abrazando el Espíritu is organized thematically into three sections. The first part focuses on the “emergencies” that framed the recruitment and implementation of the Bracero Program. This part emphasizes the influence of various scales of government and social networks in promoting the Bracero Program, the permanent burden placed on separated bracero families, and the deployment of “special immigrants,” Mexican braceros that were employed for part of their time to work as cooks, barbers, and in other services as a means of insulating the immigrants in the work camps and reducing interracial contact with...