During the Second World War, the recruitment of Basque immigrants became a pressing issue among wool growers all over the American West. The restrictive immigration measures the U.S. Congress put in place during the mid-1920s had significantly reduced the amount of Basque labor available for sheep grazing. Since the early twentieth century, wool growers had been claiming that Basques possessed exceptional qualities lacking in other groups, particularly Mexicans. They touted Basques as “skilled” workers and emphasized their alleged racial and cultural talents for sheep grazing as justification to grant them permanent “skilled” labor immigrant permits. In refusing to employ Mexican workers, most western wool growers perpetuated the idea that Basques were the preferred racial group to labor in the sheep industry. This article analyzes the relationship between the Basque sheepherder myth and sheepherder shortages in WWII. It analyzes how wool growers justified the necessity of admitting Basque immigrants, an attitude which in turn reinforced the notions of Mexican otherness and backwardness in the western sheep industry. The “Othering” and exclusion of Mexican sheepherders contributed further to more positive attitudes toward Basque immigrants, all of which must be considered in the racial context of whiteness in America.

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