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Mexican Railroad Workers in the United States, 1870-1930

Jeffrey Marcos Garcilazo

Publication Year: 2012

Perhaps no other industrial technology changed the course of Mexican history in the United States—and Mexico—than did the coming of the railroads. Tens of thousands of Mexicans worked for the railroads in the United States, especially in the Southwest and Midwest. Extensive Mexican American settlements appeared throughout the lower and upper Midwest as the result of the railroad. Only agricultural work surpassed railroad work in terms of employment of Mexicans. In Traqueros, Jeffrey Marcos Garcílazo mined numerous archives and other sources to provide the first and only comprehensive history of Mexican railroad workers across the United States, with particular attention to the Midwest. He first explores the origins and process of Mexican labor recruitment and immigration and then describes the areas of work performed. He reconstructs the workers’ daily lives and explores not only what the workers did on the job but also what they did at home and how they accommodated and/or resisted Americanization. Boxcar communities, strike organizations, and “traquero culture” finally receive historical acknowledgment. Integral to his study is the importance of family settlement in shaping working class communities and consciousness throughout the Midwest.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Al Filo: Mexican American Studies Series

title page, copyright

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pp. v-vi

List of Tables and Map

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-4

Over a century ago railroads dominated the economic and physical landscape of the United States with 93,000 miles of track crisscrossing the nation. Who laid the tracks? Who kept the trains running, the lifeblood of national economic development? Railroad workers represented a diverse panorama including the Chinese, European immigrants, and African Americans. ...

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pp. 5-10

Former traquero Jesús Ramírez complained that “It is never in the books or papers that the Mexicans built the railroads. And we had no machines, only our hands.”1 It must also be stated that even Chicano historians have never included Mexican women as railroad workers, if not necessarily at work on the track, ...

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1. Railroads and the Socioeconomic Development of the Southwest

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pp. 11-34

In popular lore of the American West, only Chinese and Irish workers built the railroads, laying track, digging tunnels, and building trestles and bridges. Indeed, this picture of track work in the West is true for the transcontinental railroad of 1869, but not for the decades to follow. ...

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2. Labor Recruitment

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pp. 35-54

There was much work to do for the railroad,” former traquero Jesús Ramírez recalled.1 Ramírez was born in Silao, Guanajuato, in 1900, and left at the age of fifteen with his father to lay tracks in Kansas, working ten hours a day at ten cents an hour. Because of the lack of work in Mexico, and the unsettled conditions resulting from the Revolution, ...

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3. Work Experiences

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pp. 55-82

In the 1920s, Mexican anthropologist Manuel Gamio collected various corridos from Mexican immigrant workers with the idea of capturing their hopes, fears, preferences and disappointments. As a form of oral history and Mexican working-class culture, corridos reveal much about life among the Mexican workers in the United States ...

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4. Labor Struggles

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pp. 83-110

On April 24, 1903, a dramatic scene took place on Main Street in Los Angeles when more than thirty Mexican women (primarily the wives of strikers) confronted several dozen esquiroles (scabs) imported from El Paso by the Pacific Electric Railway Company (PE). Owned by Henry Huntington, the PE attempted to replace striking “cholo” laborers ...

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5. Boxcar Communities

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pp. 111-136

Cleofas Calleros, an old-timer and retired Santa Fe depot official in El Paso, recalled the numerous Mexican track workers and section hands “whose groups of houses dot the desert from here to Los Angeles.”1 Indeed, as this chapter shows, traquero houses dotted not only the southwestern desert, but the entire line from El Paso to Chicago. ...

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6. Traquero Culture

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pp. 137-166

This chapter examines cultural relationships among Mexican railroad workers and their families both at home and on the job. Furthermore, it shows how a Mexican working-class culture evolved to become a distinct railroad-worker culture inextricably tied to work on the railroad, especially track work.1 ...

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pp. 167-172

Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mexican workers have been inextricably linked to the development of the Southwest. The mining, ranching, farming, timber, and manufacturing industries of this region all profited by the abundance of inexpensive labor from Mexico. ...


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pp. 173-206


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pp. 207-228


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pp. 229-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414806
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574414646

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Al Filo: Mexican American Studies Series