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American Guestworkers

Jamaicans and Mexicans in the U.S. Labor Market

David Griffith

Publication Year: 2007

The H-2 program, originally based in Florida, is the longest running labor-importation program in the country. Over the course of a quarter-century of research, Griffith studied rural labor processes and their national and international effects. In this book, he examines the socioeconomic effects of the H-2 program on both the areas where the laborers work and the areas they are from, and, taking a uniquely humanitarian stance, he considers the effects of the program on the laborers themselves.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. ix-xi

In 1978 my wife, Nancy, and I moved with our two-year-old daughter, Emily, from Iowa City to Gainesville during one of the hottest Julys in Florida history. Theodore Bundy’s trial was under way in Gainesville and young girls were driving from as far away as Pensacola to glimpse the handsome serial killer live in the courtroom. His self-prepared defense consumed the first minutes of nightly newscasts, though he never had much of a chance. In the years before his trial, Florida had executed more individuals than...

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pp. xiii-xv

Beyond the many workers and employers who worked with me to gather the information for this book, several individuals, professional associations, and funding agencies contributed to the work in various ways. Professors Terry McCoy and Charles Wood, at the University of Florida, first got me interested in the H-2 program and shaped my early views of the...

Part I: Out of Florida

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Introduction: In the State with the Prettiest Name

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pp. 3-28

Florida’s historians agree that Henry Flagler, John D. Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil, pioneered economic development all along the state’s east coast. His late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century construction projects and investments in agriculture converted swampy, tangled jungles of palmetto and cabbage palm into first inhabitable and later highly desirable...

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1. Alleged Shortages at Home, Certain Surpluses Abroad: North American Temporary Worker Programs

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pp. 29-44

At an international migration conference in Vienna, Austria, in September 2003, one of the plenary sessions, devoted to the tensions between national identity and immigration, addressed the difficulties that governments experience when integrating immigrants during periods of intense nationalism. The panelists (all but one were white men) gave as examples the...

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2. Occupations Abandoned, Workers Displaced: Seasonal Labor Before and After H-2

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pp. 45-76

With few exceptions, the labor markets that foreign workers have come to dominate once attracted domestic workers. Thus nearly every instance of an agricultural harvest or a production line where H- 2 workers work is a story of changing labor relations. Someone either left or reduced his commitment to these jobs, willingly or unwillingly, before guestworkers arrived....

Part II: Jamaican Experiences, 1981–2001

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3. From Beauty to Truth

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pp. 79-100

In central Jamaica, near the lip of the Yankee Valley, through a small opening in the bush, a well-worn footpath dips to a narrow creek and climbs up the opposite bank to a gravel road. The creek winds through fields of yams, red beans, and potatoes and a tropical understory of large, leafy rootcrops like cassava and dashien before emptying into the Yankee River. It...

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4. Aspects of the Machete

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pp. 101-122

Women weren’t the only recipients of foreign earnings who had trouble investing them in ways that might have improved rather than reproduced their impoverished conditions. Despite the male bias of agricultural extension in central Jamaica, men returning from the United States in the 1980s, prior to the end of the sugar program, were faced with several barriers to...

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5. Guests as Hosts: Jamaicans in the Tourist Industry

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pp. 123-150

According to the beautiful young desk clerk, Sonya, Black River’s Waterloo Guest House was the first establishment in Jamaica to receive electric light. Facing the Caribbean Sea across the main road entering town, on the island’s arid southern shore, the blue-gray guesthouse is a large two-story wooden structure owned by a woman named Mrs. Allen and surrounded...

Part III: Mexican Experiences, 1988–2003

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pp. 151-152

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6. When Owls Die, Ellos Nos Hierieron

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pp. 153-178

People who write about guestworker programs are often invited to present research findings to audiences representing various backgrounds—mostly colleagues and students, of course, but guestworker programs also interest nongovernmental associations (NGOs), labor unions, government representatives, and employers and other businesspeople with vested interests...

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7. Bodies on Hold: Gender and H-2

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pp. 179-198

A year before the season that Anna and her husband, Juan, were fired, Anna’s cousin Marta arrived in North Carolina three weeks pregnant. Marta wasn’t really Anna’s cousin but Juan’s nephew’s wife, though Anna referred to her as mi prima. Over the previous decade, Anna and Juan hadset themselves up as informal labor contractors for the thirty to forty H-2...

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Conclusion: Lasting Firsts

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pp. 199-218

I opened this book with the argument that local history can influence global processes, and I focused on the ways in which Henry Flagler’s development of Florida in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries pioneered labor relations that were to shape much of the state’s future development while forging links between Florida and towns throughout the Caribbean...


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pp. 219-230


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pp. 231-234

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053042
E-ISBN-10: 0271053046
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271031880
Print-ISBN-10: 0271031883

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 4 maps, 6 tables
Publication Year: 2007