This essay examines newspaper articles published in California’s Imperial Valley during the mid-twentieth century that reported stories of braceros (guest workers) and undocumented workers suffering accidents, engaging in intra-ethnic violence, falling prey to criminals, and drinking excessively. These news articles, which often cast Mexican migrants as (potentially) criminal, racialized braceros and their undocumented counterparts as outsiders and undeserving. Collectively, these news articles demonstrate that Mexican migrants experienced what Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Philippe Bourgois describe as a violence “continuum” that connects structural, everyday, and symbolic violence in overlapping and intersecting ways. The alcohol abuse and interpersonal violence so common among braceros and undocumented migrants cannot be separated from the structural and symbolic violence that these men confronted in the Imperial Valley. Migrant workers’ structural vulnerability—which placed them in harm’s way while they worked, during times of leisure, or along the migration route—was the cause, but also a byproduct, of the antisocial behavior that some men adopted to cope with their exploitation. Though scholars have long considered the conditions that I here categorize under structural, everyday, and symbolic violence, I argue that by employing the concept of a continuum of violence we can better account for the wide range of experiences that braceros and undocumented migrants encountered in the United States in the mid-twentieth century.
More Than Victims or Villains: Representations of Mexican Migrant Men in the Imperial Valley-Mexicali Borderlands, 1942–1954
Alina R. Méndez is an assistant professor in the Department of American Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. She specializes in Mexican American history with a focus on migration, labor, and relational racial formation. She is currently revising her award-winning dissertation into a book manuscript tentatively titled Land of Sun and Hunger: Migration, Farm Labor, and Social Reproduction in the Imperial Valley-Mexicali Borderlands, 1942–1969. Her research has received support from the Ford Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/School for Advanced Research, the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, the Fulbright Program, the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States, and the Archie Green Fund for Labor Culture and History.
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Alina R. Méndez; More Than Victims or Villains: Representations of Mexican Migrant Men in the Imperial Valley-Mexicali Borderlands, 1942–1954. California History 1 August 2021; 98 (3): 28–53. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2021.98.3.28
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