U.S.-Mexico Exploitation of Migrant Workers in the Bracero Program

After careful thought over the two sides of the immigration issue in the Obstruction of Injustice piece, I desired to call attention to a third, more sinister side to the immigration debate some years after this time: employer exploitation of migrants. My great-grandfather from my mother’s side, named Joseph, was from Mexico and had gained employment in the United States during the first years that the Bracero program was in operation. The Bracero program itself was implemented during World War II in order to offset the U.S. worker shortage, accomplished through transportation of Mexican men north to take over vacant jobs. It lasted well until the 1960s.

During his time in the United States, Joseph frequently had to move around to different areas to fulfill his work duties, which largely consisted of harvesting tomatoes and later cutting cotton. Most of the work in the Bracero program consisted of this type of work, being difficult jobs out in the fields for hours on end. One would surmise that, as important that the additional work effort was to the U.S., that workers would be compensated well. This was definitely not the case, as some workers had necessary work equipment given to them, but docked from their pay. In the cases of some field workers, their physical health was put in jeopardy, as they were made to till fields with twenty-four-inch rakes, leaving them with serious back problems. Joseph did not stay in the program as long as his brothers did, returning to Mexico disillusioned with the whole work scheme.

The final nail in the coffin of supposedly “fair” worker compensation was the withholding of most of the workers’ pay after their permission to work had ended. In the case of Joseph, as my great-grandmother recounted, he was unable to receive any of the accumulated pay he had been rightfully owed. As a wartime bracero, ten percent of his US wages were withheld by US employers and placed in American banks to be sent to a bank in Mexico. When my great-grandmother went to collect the money under his name, the bank would deny ever having had that type of money for him in their possession. In sum, it was a double-sided form of exploitation from the U.S. and Mexico at the time. The story of Joseph is not that far off from the prior 19th century development of U.S. exploitation of Irish and Chinese migrants in terms of hazardous work conditions and poor compensation.

Israel and Palestine: Differing Religious State Perspectives

Both documents attempt to use certain religious and regional cultural histories as justification for the formation of their own religious states. On page 1, the Israeli declaration of independence states that the “Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people” and that “here they first attained to statehood.” Also on page 1, the Palestinian declaration of independence argues that Palestine was “nourished by an unfolding series of civilizations and cultures, inspired by a heritage rich in variety and kind, and laying claim to it as belonging to the Palestinian Arab people. Though they both promise to practice religious tolerance within their states, Israel’s document points to it being a “Jewish State” while Palestine’s document emphasizes an Islamic state of Palestine (pp. 3)

The Israeli declaration of independence describes Arab persons living in Israel as being impediments to Israeli state-building, imploring that they “preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State” (pp. 4). The Palestinian declaration of independence considers the presence of Israel as more than a nuisance, and rather more as a hegemon harassing, dispersing, and even killing its people (pp. 4). In terms of where the “other side” fits into state-building, the Israeli declaration of independence argues for keeping Arab inhabitants under its jurisdiction, despite the fact many were still publicly opposed to the formation of the Israeli state in 1948 (pp. 4). The Palestinian declaration, on the other hand, seeks to develop a state wholly independent and separate from Israel, given that the Palestine National Council “proclaims the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem” (pp. 3). They demonstrably have little interest in trying to subjugate or rule over Jewish inhabitants of Israel, but rather to carve out their own state on their own land.

The Racialization of “Civilization” in the U.S.-Philippine War

“Race-Making and Colonial Violence in the U.S. Empire” centers on the experiences of Filipinos after their revolution against Spanish colonial rule, and how the U.S.’s military intervention served to continue the same racism that the Philippines had tried to fight back against with Spain. The intervention was overtly framed as a “race war”, especially so by President Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. military occupation. Race was prevalent in one of two ways; first, elite quests for recognition on the part of Filipinos, especially the affirmation of civilizational status that could lead to political rights and independence, and second, U.S. racial denigration of Filipinos by finding in them a lack of civilization for engaging in nontraditional battle tactics.

During occupation by the U.S., but before it formed a postwar treaty with Spain, Filipinos for the most part tended to welcome U.S. inspectors with great hospitality and fanfare, so as to impart upon them the fact that they are a civilized people. This would ideally aid Filipino efforts in presenting themselves as capable of self-governance or organization, given the uncertainty of their fate in the face of U.S.-Spain postwar negotiations. In the reporting of the newspaper, La Independencia, the sovereignty of the Republic was reinforced through focuses on the successful rule in the provinces, humanitarian treatment of Spanish prisoners, and explorations of just government practices. However, U.S. soldiers for their part usually brought racial practices with them from the U.S., applying racial slurs often reserved for blacks towards Filipinos. Filipinos were generally looked at as uncivilized and filthy.

The Americans put great emphasis on the idea of a “civilized war”, urging Filipino revolutionaries to surrender with honor, lest they betray common notions of “civilization” through their guerilla campaigns. Fighters who reject the principles of proper surrender in a war, and continuing prolonged and “useless” war, would out themselves as being incompetent in managing civil affairs. Filipino revolutionary leaders counterargued that the same laws of war that authorize strong nations’ use of “powerful weapons of combat” against weak ones also justified the weak to use guerilla warfare, especially in defending themselves against invaders. In essence, this would serve to separate guerilla warfare from the ethnological to being simply tactical, and to maintain the claim to civilization that the Filipino revolutionaries so desired in their attempts at attaining self-governance.

 

The key take-away from this piece would be to emphasize the U.S. racial denigration of Filipino revolutionaries overall. This was accomplished first by U.S. soldiers bringing racist culture and understandings with them, treating Filipinos the same way they would blacks. Local residents and newspapers would peacefully counter racist assertions through emphasis on their civilized self-rule, humanitarianism, and interests in the complex facets of government building. The second dimension was that of the U.S. occupancy framing Filipino guerilla warfare as being uncharacteristic of a civilized society and attempting to collapse their claims to self-governance on them. Filipino revolutionaries for their part would point to the hypocrisy of these claims, as the same honor in stronger states subjugating weaker states would then give them the justification to fight back and defend themselves against the invaders.

Colonizers by a Different Name: The U.S. and the USSR’s Stakes in Latin America

An issue to be addressed is the continued implicit colonial shadow present upon much of Latin America during the 20th century, even after supposed decolonization had occurred. Colonial control of Latin America before the 20th century oversaw systemized racist hierarchies, unequal land ownership between the top few richer families and the poorer classes, and the forceful application of foreign cultures with the domestic. As Dr. Holt noted in her lecture on Monday, the legacies of colonialism—economic, social and political—are what “set the stage for the entrenched inequalities that characterize much of Latin America today.”

Selfish foreign intervention did not stop after national independence for many Latin American countries, however. The propped-up governments and proxy wars of the Cold War served to continue colonial control by another name. On page 318 of the “Upside Down” piece, Eduardo Galeano notes that for much of the 20th century, capitalism of the West and the “real socialism” of the Eastern bloc vied for influence in the countries still seeking an independent role in the global order. The problem here, for Latin-American countries who tried to emulate or capitulate to either side, was the truth that “so-called socialism had sacrificed freedom” and that “capitalism sacrifices justice day in, day out.” Any attempt at self-governance that clashed with either ideology was often met with both covert and public organized backlash from the two giants of the Cold War.

These two paths were often not just suggestions, but rather mandates in some cases for certain unfortunate countries. The United States, in its efforts to stem communism from reaching its doorstep, opted to meddle in Latin American affairs to prop up candidates and groups to power. As Dr. Holt noted, the U.S. was originally optimistic about Fidel Castro’s rise to power in Cuba. However, after seeing that his policies did not agree with the U.S.’s goals, they opted to first militarily intervene, which was met with utter failure. In chapter 8, page 160 of the Bayly reading, Bayly recounts the U.S. economic counteroffensive, with the setting up an economic blockade that drove Cuba towards greater political dependency on the USSR, found to be an erroneous decision after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

In one case, both the USSR and the United States played the political game with Chile’s government. On chapter 8, page 159 of the Bayly reading, Salvador Allende is said to have become the president of Chile in 1970 with Soviet financial support, as well as backing being given for his later national policies. However, Bayly also stresses the fact that Augusto Pinochet, overthrowing Allende in 1973, had had financial and diplomatic backing from the American government and the CIA as well. In the pursuit of global hegemony over the other side, the U.S. and the USSR were no better than the earlier colonizers of Latin America in their consideration of these countries as pawns.

A Post-National and Post-WW2 Europe

1. One thematic shape of postwar European history was the overall reduction of Europe’s land holdings beyond what were their usual state borders for much of European history. While individual European states were well known for their unique penchants for land grabbing and colony formation before 1945, the aftermath of World War II served to shrink many states back to their immediate European borders. Though, on page 7, there are two notable exceptions to this, being the Soviet Union and Great Britain, two states were both “only half-European in their own eyes.” However, they too were inevitably much reduced in size and reach as well in later decades.

2. Judt points to a gradual lack of distinction between left-wing and right-wing European parties on many policy issues after 1945. For example, in the first paragraph of page 785, he argues that on various contemporary issues, Swedish Social Democrats and French neo-Gaullists might have “more in common with each other than with their respective ideological forebears.” A major effect of this development was the decay of old-style political parties, with declining membership and falling turnout at the polls.

A secondary effect was the drop in public prestige and respect for European public intellectuals, who together formed “an almost equally venerable European institution.” Though they were politically influential in the early years of the 20th century, politically engaged intellectuals would eventually lose much of their national and international influence compared to their predecessors. This is largely due in part to the reality that political issues like Marxism, totalitarianism, human rights, or the economics of transition were no longer as prevalent in contemporary Europe as they once were, cutting off a way for political intellectuals to tap the public consciousness to mobilize them on these same issues. The only responses to mobilization these days is a “bored and indifferent response from younger generations.”

3. To a certain extent, a post-national European state entailed a loss of perceived state legitimacy and control. It is a far cry from the traditional European state that “made war abroad but enforced the peace at home.” In response to increasing political warfare against unarmed civilians, many European citizens have advocated for their governments to mobilize more of their policemen, armies, and generally their state’s monopoly of armed power against terrorist threats. For some, this has morphed into a general suspicion and opposition to a diverse European state, specifically regarding the entry of Muslim immigrants. This is invoked in one British poster from the British National Party made after a British serviceman was murdered by two Islamists in 2013. The poster offers the reader two choices, being “Freedom and Peace” or “Islam and Terror,” no doubt aiming to paint all Muslim immigrants as potential terrorists. A second poster by the France’s National Front made for the March 2010 Regional Elections comes with the tagline “No to Islamism, Youth with Le Pen.” The imagery is that of France covered in the colors of the Algerian flag, likely equating Muslim immigrants to not only terrorists, but also to “cultural invaders” that should be forcibly dealt with by the state.

Racist Nature of Presentations of Africa in the Past and Present

An important and controversial occurrence in Africa’s recent history is the racist nature of representations of Africa by foreign states, being mostly European. Racist portrayals of Africans—most often against Sub-Saharan peoples—served a tactical purpose for imperial powers. As noted in the class lecture for September 23rd, racial ideologies situating African peoples as “lower” beings helped to further justify European imperialism on the continent. Noted as well, is that the racialized incentives for conquest are further enforced through the arrival of large numbers of Europeans to conquered territories, which directly led to racial inequalities within said colonies.

The “Africa/African” piece by Jemima Pierre further emphasizes the type of racialized ideologies that were at play, and to some extent still persist to this day. Late eighteenth-century English writings drew direct connections between apes and Africans, likely aided in part by the literary imagery of there existing supposed “beastlike men” in Africa. Pierre goes beyond the racialized motives for African colonialism by pointing out another motive for racism on page 13; the transatlantic slave trade. It would naturally be somewhat troubling to speak of enslaving another human being, especially in the mind of a then “modern” European, in order to serve in labor and crop harvesting tasks. The solution to this is to do away with the notion of these slaves being human in any way. Europeans would assert that there was both a natural and “’sexual association of apes”’ with black Africans.

Even in the contemporary world, there are certain themes played out in politics and media that continue the belief that Sub-Saharan Africa is in dire need of “white saviors”, and that it cannot so easily progress without their help. For example, the author of the Economist article, “A Hopeful Continent”, points to hopeful progress for the continent that could happen with the large amounts of foreign aid that are flowing in, but that one must wait to see the fruits of this labor in due time. This statement is not bad in and of itself, but it is the commentary afterward that is problematic. Specific aid to the tune of $1.7 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation since 2006 is promising, but there is the acknowledgement that it takes “years and years to shift the system.” The author’s problematic commentary on page 3 is that “some aid will be wasted, some new roads will remain empty, and more than a few barrels of oil will be stolen.” Though the author of the article praises the amount of aid being given, there is still a cynical belief that Sub-Saharan Africans will put that money and aid to its best use. The author, though, praises the foreign aid nonetheless, arguably evoking a sense of white saviors needing to “save” African countries at any cost. There is not even a shred of statistical evidence for these assertions of mismanagement and would appear to stem directly from the author’s own biased views.