Social Impact of War: Experience of
Mexican Americans and Native
IB History of the Americas
The Bracero Program
What was the Bracero Program?
• Foreign contract labor program initiated in 1942
during WWII
• Also known as the Migrant Labor Agreement
between U.S. & Mexican governments
• 4.6 million workers between 1942 & 1964
Sign outside
Texas tavern,
What is a bracero?
• Bracero
– Migrant worker. Mexican laborer who sells the
work of his arms (BRAZOS) in the fields of the
United States. Similar to farmHAND or
In the US:
- Large Mexican agricultural labor force from 1880s,
especially in CA, TX, and southwest
- Transformation of agriculture in 1920s-1930s to
larger bank-owned enterprises (beginning of the end
for family farms) – instead of year-round farmhands,
labor became migrant
- Growers did not want to pay fair wages to citizens –
preferred low-wage undocumented workers
- Border Patrol established in 1924, and many Mexican
workers deported during the Depression (Mexican
Repatriation), creating shortages of agricultural
workers & providing leverage to legal workers –
In Mexico:
• Many people fled northward from 1910
• 1930s agricultural crisis – harvests were
insufficient to support many farming
• Imagined possibility of earning relative riches
in the US (even though wages were often
lower in Texas than in Mexico)
WWII and the Bracero Treaty
1941-1942 – growers claimed ‘labor shortage’ &
refused to raise wages and demanded
importation of labor instead of organized
citizen labor
The Bracero Program is established
• On September 27, 1942, the first braceros were
admitted in time for the sugar-beet harvest.
• Reasons : “The increasingly difficult circumstances
of the Mexican working class in the cities and rural
communities in regards to the scarcity of
nourishment; increasing price rates and other
economic overturnings; and Mexican workers' hope
of earning better wages in the United States than in
Workers in Mexico City hoping to be contracted to work in the US, 1942
DDT not just used on crops…
Braceros received an Alien Laborer's Permit and
signed a contract, usually for 9-12 months, at
the end of which they had to turn in their
permits and return to Mexico.
Bracero Program: Documentation
Although the Bracero
Treaty called for
contracts to be written
in Spanish, often they
were in English, and the
Braceros did not
understand what they
were agreeing to.
Bracero Program: Contracts
Braceros were contracted to one employer
only. Regardless of labor conditions, if
they were caught outside the farms
specified in their documents, they were
subject to deportation.
Living Conditions
very poor,
sleeping in
Underpayment was the
most common
employers made
braceros sign blank
receipts and paid
them far less than the
agreed-upon wage.
Operation Wetback, was devised in
1954 under the supervision of new
commissioner of the Immigration and
Nationalization Service, Gen. Joseph
The object of his intense border enforcement were "illegal
aliens," but common practice of Operation Wetback focused on
Mexicans in general. The police swarmed through Mexican
American barrios throughout the southeastern states. Some
Mexicans, fearful of the potential violence of this militarization,
fled back south across the border.
In some cases, illegal immigrants were deported along with
their American-born children, who were by law U.S. citizens.
• According to [INS Commissioner] Swing, the
“alarming, ever-increasing, flood tide” of
undocumented migrants from Mexico constituted
“an actual invasion of the United States.” Operation
Wetback commenced in June 1954 with a “direct
attack…upon the hordes of aliens facing us across the
border…Planes were used to locate wetbacks and to
direct ground teams working in jeeps…to discourage
re-entry, many of those apprehended were moved
far into the interior of Mexico by train and ship.”
Racial Tensions in LA during WWII
• Racism against Mexican Americans and the
fear of teen crime
• Mexican American teenagers who wore “zoot
suits” were targeted.
• June 1943: 2500 soldiers and sailors attacked
Mexican American neighborhoods in LA
Hispanic Americans on the
Many Hispanics wore
zoot suits
– Long coats, baggy
pants, “duck tail” hair
The Zoot suits were
thought to be unAmerican, leading to
riots in Los Angeles
– Zoot Suit Riots ( 1943)
Zoot Suit Riots
• Sailors and soldiers on leave, especially in
California, frequently attacked zoot suiters as
“draft dodgers” or “foreigners.” Ripped their
clothes, and cut their hair. These violent
culture clashes are known as the Zoot Suit
Zoot Suit Riots
• In Oakland and Venice, Calif., sailors and marines "raided"
Chicano gatherings and attacked the zoot-suiters, stripping
them of their clothes.
• On June 3, 1943 in Los Angeles, a reported dispute over
Chicanos set off a military riot. For five straight nights, Whites
in uniform stormed the streets. They dragged zoot-suiters out
of bars and nabbed them in movie theaters by turning the
lights on.
• What started as an assault on Mexican Americans quickly
expanded to include blacks and Filipinos. Each night, police
officers waited until the GIs left and then swooped in to arrest
the victims of the violence.
Zoot Suit Riots
• Military officials declared the downtown
district off limits to military personnel.
• The measure restored order, but real peace
was harder to achieve.
• In a national newspaper column, first lady
Eleanor Roosevelt blamed the riots on "longstanding discrimination against the Mexicans
in the Southwest."
Native American Contributions
during World War II
• 25,000 Native
American joined
armed forces
• 23,000 worked at
Wartime plants and
• 33% of eligible Native
Americans Serve in
• Notable were the
Navajo codetalkers
(Communicated in
the Navajo language)
Native Americans on the Homefront
Many Native Americans moved from
reservations to cities for jobs
Many volunteered for military
– Some used native language as code.
Never broken by Japanese or Germans
Harold Ickes
• Secretary of the Interior said “In view of the
long period of strained relationships between
Indians and the Government it is heartening
that everywhere and in every tribe the Indians
have responded willingly and gladly to the
opportunity to share in the defense of the
• Many Native American
women volunteered as
• In the forests of Minnesota
and Wisconsin, women
helped plant new trees to
help meet the increased
demand for lumber that
resulted from the war.
• 10 women from the Lac du
Flambeau reservation
received Red Cross pins for
150 hours of knitting and
• “Indians are good warriors and can accomplish
feats the ordinary soldier could not.”
• 550 Indians died trying to live up to this
image. 40% were Sioux, who had a reputation
of being fierce warriors.
Navajo Code Talkers
The Navajo code talkers took part in every assault
the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942
to 1945. They served in all Marine divisions,
transmitting messages by telephone and radio in
their native language—a code that the Japanese
never broke.
Why Navajo?
• The idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from Philip
Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few nonNavajos who spoke their language fluently.
• He also knew that Native American languages—notably Choctaw—had been
used in World War I to encode messages.
• Johnston believed Navajo answered the military requirement for an
undecipherable code because Navajo is an unwritten language of extreme
• Its syntax and tonal qualities, not to mention dialects, make it unintelligible to
anyone without extensive exposure and training.
• It has no alphabet or symbols, and is spoken only on the Navajo lands of the
American Southwest.
Success in the Pacific
• At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal
officer, declared, "Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines
would never have taken Iwo Jima.“
• Connor had six Navajo code talkers working around the clock
during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and
received more than 800 messages, all without error.
• The Japanese chief of intelligence, Lieutenant General Seizo
Arisue, said that while they were able to decipher the codes used
by the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps, they never cracked the
code used by the Marines.
Honors for Navajo Veterans
• Long unrecognized because of the continued value of their
language as a security classified code, the Navajo code talkers of
World War II were honored for their contributions to defense on
Sept. 17, 1992, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.

Social Impact of War: Mexican Americans and Native …