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Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico

Deborah Cohen

Publication Year: 2011

Drawing on oral histories, ethnographic fieldwork, and documentary evidence, ###Braceros# applies a cultural approach to analyze the political economy of labor migration, the rise of large-scale corporate agriculture, and state-to-state relations, showing how the World War II and postwar periods laid the groundwork for current debates over immigration and globalization. Cohen creatively links the often unconnected themes of exploitation, development, the rise of consumer cultures, and gendered class and race formation to show why those with connections beyond the nation have historically provoked suspicion, anxiety, and retaliatory political policies.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Quotes

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-17

“I lived with many other men, in a barracks,” Álvaro García told me as he snipped a customer’s hair. He was, as always, holding court in the local barbershop he owned in a small village in the central part of the Mexican state of Durango. “I had never done that — lived with other men before — only with...

Part I: Producing Transnational Subjects

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1 Agriculture, State Expectations, and the Configuration of Citizenship

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pp. 21-46

At four o’clock one morning in August 1942, a mere eight days after the Mexican government announced its intent to support the world war against fascism by sending men to work in the United States, hopeful migrants congregated in lines that wound around the Ministry of Labor building. Only six...

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2 Narrating Class and Nation: Agribusiness and the Construction of Grower Narratives

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pp. 47-65

In testimony before a House of Representatives subcommittee on the bracero program in 1955, William H. Tolbert, a representative of two California growers associations, described the hopes of the American farmer, who never wanted his son to “get up and milk cows at four o’clock in the morning...

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3 Manhood, the Lure of Migration, and Contestations of the Modern

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pp. 67-86

“ The euphoria about the bracero program was incredible,” a former bracero told his questioner. “Everyone wanted to go. . . . I realized that it was very good opportunity to avail myself of resources.”1...

Part II: Bracero Agency and Emergent Subjectivities

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4 Rites of Movement, Technologies of Power: Making Migrants Modern from Home to the Border

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pp. 89-112

One warm afternoon, Álvaro García told the crew in the barbershop how proud he was to have been selected. “I was proud, too,” said Ramón Avitia. State officials “told us we would teach the Americans about Mexico,” that “we’d bring progress to Mexico, to Durango.”1 Erasmo Bolívar echoed this...

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5 With Hunched Back and on Bended Knee: Race, Work, and the Modern North of the Border

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pp. 113-144

“I t’s a picture of San Andrés before the revolution,” replied Mauricio Herrera to my question about the black-and-white photograph hanging next to one of Pancho Villa, revolutionary hero and Durango’s legendary son. “We didn’t own any land; we worked the landowner’s.” While reform policies subsequently...

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6 Strikes against Solidarity: Containing Domestic Farmworkers’ Agency

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pp. 145-171

“Sure, the work was hard . . . and the food, sometimes it was hard, too,” said Ramón Avitia, in a moment of levity. He glanced around the barbershop at me and the four men on the bench, who nodded in agreement. “Growers,” he continued in a somber tone, “didn’t always respect the contract or pay us...

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7 Border of Belonging, Border of Foreignness: Patriarchy, the Modern, and Making Transnational Mexicanness

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pp. 173-198

One afternoon in the barbershop, Raúl Molina mentioned crossing the border back to Mexico. “I was coming back,” he told the assemblage of men in their sixties and seventies. “I got o≠ the bus and walked up to the border guard. . . . The soldier was young, although I wasn’t that old then either, and...

Part III: The Convergence of Elite Alliances

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8 Tipping the Negotiating Hand: State-to-State Struggle and the Impact of Migrant Agency

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pp. 201-221

“I went only once,” Ramón Avitia told me, referring to his bracero journey. “I didn’t earn much money and it was hard work, but with what I made I built my house and bought a few cows.”...

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pp. 223-229

One morning in 2005, as I stared at the blinking cursor, I was distracted by the radio in the background. National Public Radio was running a story on a debate in a Washington, D.C., suburb over whether the municipality should invest in a day laborers’ center to shelter immigrant men who waited outside...


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pp. 231-278


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pp. 279-304

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pp. 305-314

Finishing a book is akin to training for and running a marathon (in my case, it was a half marathon). You recognize you owe it to a wealth of support along the way, from those hardy souls cheering on the sidelines and friends waiting to congratulate you at the finish, to those running alongside you or...


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pp. 315-328

E-ISBN-13: 9781469603391
E-ISBN-10: 146960339X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807833599
Print-ISBN-10: 0807833592

Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 700932297
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Braceros

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Migrant agricultural laborers -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexicans -- United States -- Census.
  • Migrant labor -- Government policy -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Transnationalism.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • Mexico -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • United States -- Foreign economic relations -- Mexico.
  • Mexico -- Foreign economic relations -- United States.
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