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TAMIU Assistant Professor Hazelton Presented, Published Research on Labor, Bracero Program Posted: 7/06/17

TAMIU Assistant Professor Hazelton Presented, Published Research on Labor, Bracero Program


Andrew J. Hazelton
Dr. Andrew J. Hazelton  

South Texas might seem like an odd place for a historian to conduct research on labor issues, but Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) assistant professor of History Andrew J. Hazelton has found that the University’s international focus and geographic location complement his scholarship on Mexican migrants and Mexican American workers.  

Last month, he presented, chaired and commented at panel presentations at a labor history conference in Seattle, and saw two of his articles on the Bracero program published—one in a journal and another one in a Mandarin-language book.

At the Labor and Working Class History Association’s June conference, “Scales of Struggle: Communities, Movements and Global Connections,” Dr. Hazelton gave two presentations as part of larger panels, one of which he organized.

For the panel he organized, he presented on borderlands and Texas labor struggles, focusing on two local men.

“My paper was about the Idar family, a Laredo family. It was about the careers of two brothers, Clemente and Federico. Both of them were labor organizers—one in Monterrey and the other across Texas and the broader Southwest,” explained Hazelton.

His other presentation focused on national labor law and its application to farmworkers in the middle of the 20th Century. Hazelton examined the selective and punitive application of labor law to a farmworker strike in 1940s California.

Hazelton also chaired a panel on migrant laborers in international comparative perspective.

“When they had all presented, I structured my comments to bring the pieces into conversation with each other by focusing on their common threads to draw out larger, ‘big picture’ insights to be drawn from the different regions and time periods,” said Hazelton.

Panelist presentations ranged from Spanish guest workers to Germany and Mexican braceros to the U.S., South Texas labor migration in the Rio Grande Valley today, and the Chinese “floating population” of rural migrants to the coastal cities.

Hazelton’s ability to draw comparisons among the different regions s stems in part from an article he contributed to “Trans Pacific Conversations: Doing History in a Global Age,” (Beijing: The Commercial Press, 2017) a book published in collaboration by Indiana University of Pennsylvania History Department and Hebei University in China.

“The article is about managed migration of Mexican male laborers through the Bracero Program, a guest worker program for US agriculture that ran from 1942 until 1964. It examines the efforts to build transnational organizing strategies to advocate for farmworkers on both sides of the border,” he said.

Hazelton, who does not speak or write Mandarin, said he is interested in doing comparative studies with Chinese scholars, so it made sense to “publish in China” when the co-editor asked him to contribute.

“There are a number of striking parallels between the problems of documented and undocumented rural migrants from México to the US and the problems of the so-called ‘floating population’ in China—rural peasants who migrate to China’s rapidly urbanizing coastal areas in search of work.

“In China, there are a variety of social and governmental benefits that accrue to urban citizens who have a claim on these benefits by virtue of their status as urban residents. The ‘floating population’ has a difficult time gaining access to permanent ‘urban resident’ status, so they wind up trapped in cyclical migration streams, marginalization, and nativist backlashes from more established urban populations. All of these problems have echoes in the mid-century policy problems presented by Mexican guest workers and undocumented migrants,” Hazelton explained.

His most recent article, “Farmworker Advocacy through Guestworker Policy: Secretary of Labor James P. Mitchell and the Bracero Program, 1955-1960” appears in the “Journal of Policy History” Volume 29, Number 3 (June 2017).

In it, Hazelton argues that in the face of his failure to lobby for legislative or administrative improvements for American farmworkers, President Eisenhower’s secretary of labor tried something different.

“Mitchell used and expanded his regulatory authority over the Bracero Program to make it harder for commercial farmers to exploit Mexican labor, in the process leveraging limited improvements for white, black and Latina/o farmworkers. It wasn’t a perfect strategy, but it contributed to the increasing controversy surrounding the labor importation program and raised the national consciousness on the farmworker issue just a few years before César Chávez and Dolores Huerta’s United Farm Workers (UFW) launched its historic grape boycott,” said Hazelton.

“Mitchell is an interesting, understudied figure. He shows how allies in government can work on behalf of vulnerable people and the reformers who champion their cause, but it’s still an imperfect approach,” he added.

In the late 1950s, Mitchell started using public outcry over Bracero Program abuses as cover to increase program enforcement with a goal of improving labor standards on American farms and making it harder for growers to contract guest workers. 

The articles and conference have helped Hazelton focus on new projects.

“I met many new and emerging scholars in the growing field of Texas labor history and the history of Texas Mexican American activism and the conference and recent publications have helped me think about how to frame my book project moving forward. I also spoke with Matt García, a leading scholar on the UFW, Mexican migration and Chicana/o history, about joining Rutgers University Press’ ‘Latinidad’ series. I look forward to working more closely with Matt in the coming year as I now turn toward the book,” he said.

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