This month marks the signing of the Bracero Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico.
The 72nd anniversary – not a sexy number, I guess. But the moment seems relevant given the crisis of unaccompanied kids flowing up from Central America, in especially large numbers over the last couple months.
The furor, the appearance of the kids themselves, are part of the complicated perversity that now surrounds the immigration issue, where Americans want and don’t want immigrant laborers. It all began with the Bracero Treaty.
The treaty was signed in 1942, allowing Mexican guest workers to be contracted to work the fields of the United States, harvesting the food that the country and its military needed while men were fighting World War II.
But the important thing here is that the treaty began the transformation of America in many ways. First, it began the transition of agriculture, particularly in California, away from white, native-born labor to eventually an entirely Mexican, and then Mexican Indian, labor force today.
(In the early 1960s, Cesar Chavez, just then organizing farmworkers, was a main opponent of the treaty, and lobbied hard to end it. He was equally a fierce opponent of illegal Mexican labor.)
Our desire for cheap, plentiful labor trumped our dedication to the rule of law – a recurring theme through the next decades. So, crucially, the first large flows of illegal immigrants came at the same time as the two million legal laborers contracted under the treaty over its 22 years.
That, in turn, began the custom of migrating illegally that took hold in many Mexican states – Jalisco, Zacatecas, Michoacan and others – and has become a business for many.
The Bracero Treaty also began turning many parts of Mexico (and later Central America) into dependents of the U.S. economy. The first channels of immigration from certain villages to towns in the U.S. began with the treaty. That continues today. Some Mexican towns eventually just emptied almost entirely, a collection now of large, beautiful, unused houses built with immigrant dollars.
I made this video recently when I was in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where I walked the grounds of Jardines del Humaya, the cemetery that is the final resting place of dozens of legendary drug traffickers.
It looks like a mini-Beverly Hills. Some of the tombs have air conditioning, barbecue grills, sound systems, even bulletproof glass. A few are the size of a house or two near where I live.
Immigrant village cemetery, Michoacan
One had a long banner to a fallen, presumably murdered, brother, swearing to him, “There’s no truce.” (No hay tregua.)
I’ve seen much smaller versions of this in immigrant villages. One thing immigrants do with their dollars is build larger burial places. They do away with the iron crosses of their poverty and build themselves sepulchers with a statue of Jesus or the Virgin, maybe an open bible in stone.
But these are modest in comparison to the Jardines del Humaya.
Strange, excessive, lurid. I felt as if dropped into some foreign kingdom. These are the new Pharoahs.
I made this video with the help of my anonymous guide. I hope you like it. Feel free to subscribe to my Youtube channel – True Tales Video.
One effect will probably be to end any attempt at immigration reform for the foreseeable future, and possibly the end of any Republican ability to woo Latinos, as well. Thus perhaps also killing any chance they have to win the presidency in 2016. Who knows? It’s early, but these seem like plausible outcomes this morning of last night’s results.
Cantor had supported the idea of giving immigrant youths citizenship, which was a main reason why he lost in his district that was recently remapped to become even more conservative.
I can’t see how many House Republicans would line up behind any kind of immigration reform that the president and Senate would support. I’m no Washington pundit, but it seems to me that the idea will most likely die again.
Cantor’s defeat was a remarkable event given that he was a national party leader and that he was well-known for raising huge amounts of cash. It came in a political season when establishment Republicans beat several tea partyers – Sen. Mitch McConnell being the most notable example.
Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see what this does to the Republican Party’s standing among Latinos.
The barefoot Triqui Indian basketball team, from the mountains of Oaxaca, is in Los Angeles for a couple weeks.
The team of 10 and 11-year-olds from the village of Rio Venado, Oaxaca was welcomed with a brass band and a press conference at Casa Oaxaca in Mid-City.
A full schedule awaits. A tournament next two Saturdays. Visits to UCLA, USC, Disneyland, and the Lakers. As well as meals at several of the many Oaxacan restaurants that have proliferated in Pico-Union and West LA in the last 10 years.
The team formed out of an academy set up three years ago in Rio Venado, with a focus on bringing education to the isolated Triquis in the mountains of Oaxaca.
The Triquis (Tree-Kees) are considered among the poorest indigenous ethnic groups in Mexico. (Los Angeles has few Triquis, but they form a large part of the Central Valley agricultural labor force.) For years, the Triqui region has seemed stuck “in the 18th Century,” said Sergio Zuniga, the coach. “Their dream before was to finish elementary school and go the U.S.”
The academy formed to change that, with Triqui teachers. It adopted the attitude of making do with what it had available, which in Rio Venado doesn’t include tennis shoes. One thing that was available was basketball, which is a huge sport across the mountains of Oaxaca.
“In Mexico, we don’t teach the culture of competitiveness,” Zuniga said. “What we’re doing with these kids is teaching them competitiveness — that they learn to win and lose.”
Since then, the image of shoeless four-foot Indian basketball players has captured the imagination and sympathy of people across the continent.
The team amounts to a public-relations strategy to call attention to the long-forgotten Triqui region, where average education is four years. The Indian-taught academy spent its first 18 months without any help at all. But as the team garnered attention in the Washington Post and CNN, the Mexican government has supported it, promised to build houses for the players’ parents and pay for the kids’ education, including college.
“The idea for the school wasn’t to place blame [for the Triqui situation], but simply to act,” Zuniga said. “With Indians, we’re forming winners. This has astonished people [across the Americas] — how Indians are changing their history.”
Up to now, nonunion immigrant supermarkets have been a low-cost place to shop for food — with prices based at least partly, I’ve always suspected, on an especially compliant workforce.
I shop often at El Super, Northgate Gonzalez, El Tapatio, and many others — far more than I go to Ralph’s. I find the produce especially good quality and cheap.
All are owned by immigrants (or folks in Mexico, in El Super’s case). They are staffed by Latino immigrants and target the Latino immigrant consumer. They see cactus leaves (nopales), tortillas, dried black beans, chorizo and often feel just like supermarkets in Mexico.
Many are in spaces once occupied by Ralph’s, Von’s, Alpha Beta and other non-immigrant supermarket chains — buildings many of them moved into after the other businesses were burned out during the 1992 Rodney King riots.
For consumers who’ve known where to go and what to buy, these markets I’ve long thought were a benefit of living in Southern California — same as cheap flooring installation.
I’ve never heard of any of them being struck. But that was then — during years of seemingly unending flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America into the region.
I suspect the El Super protests have something to do with the dramatic slowing in the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants into the US in the last few years. Not to mention, the record numbers of deportations in the last few years.
A smaller supply of workers means those who have jobs gain confidence in their ability to demand better treatment.
The gravest threat to an illegal immigrant without much education or English is a lot of immigrants with the same limited skill set.
That’s why so many Latino immigrants have left L.A. over the years for places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Minnesota, etc etc. They weren’t escaping the migra. They were escaping others just like themselves, who bid down wages and forced up rents.
Now there are fewer of them.
So … might we see immigrant workers at more companies objecting to their treatment by their immigrant owners? Perhaps in other industries — home improvement, for example?
I had no idea they existed. But they remain a fairly coherent group, still speaking Roma and wandering through the country — the ones I met did anyway.
This was several years ago — 2002 I believe. I was a freelancer in Mexico. The O.C. Register called and asked if I’d go to a village in Puebla where a boy was to be buried. He had been shot to death by Huntington Beach Police and the family was sending his body back. That was a whole other story.
But while I was in the village, waiting for his burial the next day, I heard a loudspeaker announcing something I couldn’t understand. A few minutes later, I saw a ramshackle truck, filled with chairs and tables and barely hanging together.
Then it stopped and ten or twelve people piled out. They were the Brandy family — three generations of Roma gypsies. I went over to talk to them, wondering who on earth they could be and what they were doing in town.
They spoke Spanish and Roma. Turned out, they spent their lives touring the most isolated villages, showing movies and charging 15 or 20 pesos. Many Roma people did that much of the year in Mexico, they said.
For some villages, impromptu Roma theater was welcome entertainment, though the Brandys allowed that with cable TV, VCRs and DVDs the numbers of these villages was dwindling.
I watched as the Brandys cordoned off a lot with high sheets so no one could see in. Inside, they set up a projector, put out chairs and benches they had in their truck, and as night fell, they charged admission and put on the worst monster movie I’d ever seen.
I hate all monster movies, but this was the worst. It featured, I remember, building-sized snakes. I remember a desultory crowd of 15 or so enduring this flick.
I didn’t stick around long.
I wanted desperately to go off with them the next day, but the Register needed a story and so I remained. The Brandys didn’t have telephones or maybe they told me that so I wouldn’t tag along.
Worthington, of course, was anathema to animal-rights folks, as he paraded seals, lions, tigers, hippos, etc, all named Spot before viewers of late-afternoon Westerns on Channel 11 or 9 or 5, urging them to “Go See Cal” with that Beverly Hillbilly banjo going loco behind him.
Cal Worthington was the last, or longest-lived (or both) of the Southern-accented used car dealers who came with the first waves of white migration from the South and Midwest to LA.
You might remember Ralph Williams: “Hi friends, Ralph Williams, Ralph Williams Ford.” He was another.
There were more. Just can’t remember them right now. One guy was not like them. Bob Spreen. Remember him, with the mellow tone? “Bob Spreen Cadillac. Where the freeways meet in Downey.” Like he was from, like, Indiana or some place, but definitely not from Oklahoma.
At first, these Southern car dealers never mentioned Spanish, then as years passed they couldn’t avoid it and began tagging each commercial with a roughhewn “Se Habla Espanol.” Then they just faded away.
Now the South Gate Boulevard of Cars is dotted with used car lots owned by Arabs and Cubans, and staffed by Mexicans selling to other Mexicans.
The world’s greatest trombonist appeared in a small music studio in the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles this week.
Faustino Diaz, from Oaxaca, won the prestigious Jeju international trombone competition in Korea earlier this month.
Three days later he was back in his village of San Lorenzo Cacaotepec (pop. 7300), playing danzones with the village band he grew up in, directed by his father.
Diaz has a beautiful story, which reminded me of so many Oaxacan immigrants in LA.
In his village, music possibilities were limited. So he left for Mexico City. There he improved, but as time passed he found he was still not the musician he thought he could be, even as he played in the philharmonic of the National Autonomous University (UNAM).
So a few years ago, he left the plum job with the UNAM philharmonic, gambled everything and moved to Rotterdam, Holland to study with Jorgen van Rijen, who remade his sound, tenderized his musical sensibilities that had been stunted by limited exposure to the world’s music and best musicians off in Mexico.
Showing the kind of gumption that has characterized so many immigrants, including his Oaxacan paisanos here in LA, he became a world-class musician himself.
He came in second in the trombone competition a year ago in Italy. But this year, seasoned and ready for his moment, Diaz beat a French and a Japanese competitor, and 46 others.
With hallucinogenic jet lag, he returned to a hero’s welcome back in Oaxaca, with a parade through his village, hordes of journalists to ask him how he did it, and the banda in which he first learned to play — trumpet initially, then trombone — ready to receive him.
Famed Oaxacan painter Francisco Toledo came to town to congratulate him.
Next day, he flew to Mexico City and was mobbed in a press conference there as well.
Tonight, as I was writing, I was looking for a term that connoted “a wandering peddler” — hopefully from some foreign culture. Wandering myself through the Internet, I came upon a wondrous piece of journalism.
So moderate and upper-class Republicans and liberals join together. Working-class Democrats and working-class Republican often band together in opposition, joining many of those who live in the area most impacted by the smuggling of illegal immigration — Arizona of late.
It’s all about who is harmed and who is hurt by immigration, seems to me.
I know that it’s fashionable to call those opposed to immigration reform racists or bigots. I don’t see that. I think that’s specious, bogus and facile — an ad hominem attack that mostly reflects someone wanting to silence someone else, not address a point of view.
I’m quite sure there are some racists out there. But really, your feeling on immigration reform corresponds most strongly to whether you perceive yourself bearing costs or reaping benefits from immigration.
Working-class black Americans seem, from my vantage point, particularly opposed to more immigration from Mexico and Central America. That’s not surprising, as those immigrants take jobs that those black Americans might well have had — and I’m not referring to fast food work, but to jobs in other, slightly higher paid sectors: truck driving, for example. Construction and landscaping are others.
Another group with some opposition to Mexican and Central American immigration — and for the same reason — are working-class Mexican-Americans. I’ve had fascinating conversations with some Mexican-Americans, whose relatives came here in the 1920s, about what they termed the “invasion” of Mexican immigrants who took the jobs in their neighborhoods (restaurant, car wash) that Mexican-American kids usually considered theirs.
When the LA Times publishes an immigration story (of any kind) the comment section quickly fills with illiterate, trashy, bickering comments. This one is interesting, though:
“I am a working class democrat.
I have wanted less immigration for years. Immigrtaion hurts the environment. depresses wages, steals job opportunities, reduces civic involvement, and creates divisions where none existed before to create a distraction from the rich at the top pitting black against brown against white, and left against right while those globalists Americans in name only at the top plunder the country.
For wanting less immigration I am called a racist,xenophobic,nativist, anti immigrant white supremacist bigot in order to shut me up.
The author of this article says it is an odd alliance pushing this new immigration bill . It is not odd that the elites want to import a new electorate more easily duped and more compliant and cheaper and younger workers for the open border cheap labor anti American worker lobby . It is merely a word the author is afraid to say if he has actually studied the situation and been able to put two and two together. It is simply called TREASON.”