Even more than World War I, World War II brought about huge development of agriculture in the United States and Mexican Americans were a large part of that wartime effort. More workers were needed. Several Mexican-U.S. agreements sought to address the U.S. labor needs, collectively these governmental agreements are called the Bracero Programs. The various agreements extended from 1942 through 1964. Well over five million Mexican were recruited as workers through these programs. Even after World War II ended, agriculture employers argued the continued need for Bracero workers because the need for agricultural workers remained high and they needed time to adjust away from reliance on Mexican labor. While the Bracero Program officially ended, the use of Mexican labor did not waiver. Agriculture never adjusted away from reliance on Mexican labor. The end of the governmental agreements simply meant that the Mexican labor now crossed the border without governmental blessing and we entered the era of “illegal” immigration and “undocumented” workers.
The dairy industry, like most of agriculture, is highly dependent on its Latino workforce. The interdependence between these groups of people did not develop over night. In reality, this interdependence took over a century to develop into the situation it is today. It is critical that we understand that the present was created by the choices of the past. If we are to be successful as we move forward, we need to examine those choices and understand how we arrived at where we are today.
Postscript:This is a highly simplified abstract of a complex time in the history of the United States and Mexico. For an in-depth account please see: Meier, M. S. and Ribera, F. (1993). Mexican Americans/American Mexicans From Conquistadors to Chicanos. New York, NY: Hill and Wang
Shannon Archibeque-Engle is an undergraduate advisor in the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University