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37 Rise of Rural and UrbanActivism T he post–World War II decades brought about a rising awareness among Mexican Americans nationally of the need for collective mobilization to achieve full civil rights. One organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), had been active in Texas since  in seeking equality regarding education, housing, and other issues. During the war the Fair Employment Practices Committee launched investigations regarding discriminatory hiring practices in defense-related industries in the Southwest. Returning Mexican American veterans formed the G.I. Forum to alleviate discriminatory treatment in southwestern institutions. Many areas in the public and private sector, however, particularly in the Midwest, remained retrograde in their treatment of Mexican Americans. By the s a radical generation espoused the cause of La Causa, the civil rights cause for Chicanos (the name that activists adopted, replacing Mexican Americans). A key element of the Chicano Movement was support for the campaign to organize farm workers, which developed a midwestern component. Due to the unique regional mix, La Causa reached out to all Latino groups, although nationalistic tendencies and identities have remained separate. The Catholic Church also entered a more activist phase during the mid-s, with the formation of the Bishops’ Committee for the Spanish-Speaking (BCSS), which sought to call attention to aspects of urban and rural poverty. During the ensuing two decades the BCSS adopted a new pastoral and social consciousness as concerned rural migrants and, to a lesser extent, barrio residents. The plight of the migrants, though largely hidden from public view, became increasingly visible as crusading journalists such as Carey McWilliams and other reformers chronicled the abuses they faced in their journeys across regions and borders. The concentration of agricultural land and wealth in fewer and fewer hands unfairly subjected Mexican American workers to low wages and unpleasant working conditions, while undermining educational opportunities and otherwise blocking entry of whole segments of the population into the middle class. The conveying of seasonal labor from Texas to Michigan during the s entailed many such untidy elements, as Spanish-speaking agents for sugar companies, usually Mexican Americans, rode the trains heading out of San Antonio and Fort Worth to convince passengers to sign up with them. Transportation was arduous for the five-day rail journey, with stops in St. Louis and Chicago, and even more unpleasant for those who went by truck. San Antonio residents destined for the fields of Blissfield, Michigan, for instance, were packed together in June  in a crowded vehicle, traveling nonstop for three days and two nights. After the migrants arrived they were usually housed in shacks with no plumbing or electricity, with their expenses collected from wages at company stores. At the end of the season the workers had just enough money to get back to Texas on their own, with no wage at all guaranteed , should the crops be poor or a drought occur. In fact, when beet work was slow, the migrants had to seek day labor elsewhere, harvesting potatoes, cucumbers, beans, and other crops. The annual pilgrimage northward customarily tapered off in the summer months, and patterns of influx and outflow remained erratic throughout the year.45 By the early s over , out-of-state farm workers were coming to Michigan annually, mostly from Texas. There also began an importation of over , Mexican nationals, the braceros. The Michigan State Employment Service estimated that about , Spanishspeaking migrants came annually into the Saginaw region during the David A. Badillo 38 sugar-beet season. Many of them departed in July to work the cherry crop around the Grand Rapids area, to return in smaller numbers to Saginaw in October for the beet harvest. The rise of canneries and foodprocessing plants during the s and s continued to attract workers from depressed areas in Texas and Mexico; by , seasonal agriculture in Michigan had climbed to a record , workers, including almost , braceros. Over half of the migrants in Michigan were employed in five counties—four in western Michigan and one along Saginaw Bay—primarily for fruits and vegetables.46 From the fields to the barrios, the church played a constructive role in easing the lives of Latinos, and even , on occasion, served as their advocate. The Grand Rapids and Saginaw dioceses developed special programs for the Mexican and Texan migrants. Since migrants were widely scattered and mobile, parish-based work was impracticable. The bishop of Saginaw, where Mexican workers were scattered on many farms, in  organized a special diocesan work called the...


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