Revolution #91, June 10, 2007
The Chicano Struggle and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S.
Part 4: World War II and the Bracero Program
Revolution is running a series of excerpts from “The Chicano Struggle and Proletarian Revolution in the U.S.” This position paper, which originally appeared in June 2001, is by a writing group of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. The research and investigation that is reflected in this paper was part of producing the new Draft Programme of the RCP. (The Draft Programme and the full text of the position paper are available online at revcom.us/s/programme_e.htm.)
Previous parts of this series appeared in issues #87, #89, and #90. We continue with another excerpt from the first section of the paper, “The History and Present Conditions of the Chicano People.”
World War II
Nearly 500,000 Chicanos served in the armed forces during World War II, and for many this meant breaking the rural isolation they had lived in, coming into contact with new ideas and different people, including Chicanos from other areas. The war also brought more Chicanos and Mexicanos into the industrial and agricultural proletariat.
Sent off in large numbers to fight and die for U.S. imperialist interests, "at home" Chicanos were still seen and treated like second-class citizens and faced many forms of discrimination. They went to segregated schools, and it was not uncommon for people of Mexican descent to be denied access to public swimming pools and theatres, or to be refused service in restaurants. In Texas los rinches, the Texas Rangers, made it their sole purpose to harass Chicanos and Mexicanos.
In 1943 bands of sailors, aided and encouraged by the police, rioted in L.A. attacking Chicano youth. The reactionary press called these the "Zoot Suit Riots," because of the style of dress of these urban Chicano youth, and newspapers launched a propaganda barrage about the "criminal nature" of the Chicano people. In fact the generation of the "Zoot Suiters" brought a new character to Chicano culture, particularly in the more urban areas--taking on racist attacks on Chicanos and defying the dominant Anglo culture.
The war also caused a shortage of labor in the fields, as many Blacks, Chicanos and poor whites that had worked the fields during the depression went into the military. In need of a cheap labor supply, in 1942 the U.S. and Mexican governments set up the Bracero program. This program guaranteed a set number of Mexican workers who would come to the U.S. and work for a particular harvest and then would return to Mexico at the end of the season. (Not all Braceros worked in the fields; some ended up working for the railroads laying tracks, and others found their way to factories in the East Coast.) The agreement stated that Braceros could not be drafted by the U.S., they would not take jobs away from domestic workers, and there was to be no discrimination against them. In reality they were forced into jobs with low pay, bad working conditions, and with no right to organize or fight back. From 1942 to 1947, 220,000 Braceros were brought into the U.S. for farm labor, in a program that lasted until the early 1960s. (Recently it has been uncovered that hundreds of thousands of Braceros were robbed of tens of millions of dollars through mandatory payroll deductions into "savings accounts" that most Braceros never knew about, and that were never turned over to them after they were sent back to Mexico.)
In the 1950s the INS carried out what they called "Operation Wetback." Using midnight raids, street dragnets, and the use of schools as concentration camps to hold people awaiting deportation, they unleashed a reign of terror against immigrants and Chicanos, eventually deporting millions of people, citizen and non-citizen alike.
By the 1950s there was a large Chicano population and many had a similar history of being born or raised in the U.S. of parents who had migrated from Mexico. This was a different generation than the "Zoot suiters"--but many of these youth had heard stories about and respected those youth of the 1940s. There was anger at being cast aside, being treated as outsiders, hounded by the police, etc. The immigrant and Chicano population that had helped build the Southwest--helped lay the rails, build the bridges and roads, worked in the mines and the fields--was little valued. And little was known about or considered worth knowing about the country of Mexico they had come from--its whole history, culture, and society. In the schools, these youth found that the curriculum included almost nothing that taught students the history of the Chicano people, and in society at large there was little recognition of the contributions Chicanos had made to society. It was as though Chicanos had never existed as a people, as though they had never accomplished anything of worth. In the early '60s Chicanos at UCLA discovered that some of the professional schools had never graduated a single Chicano--in the city of Los Angeles, with its large Chicano population.
Out of all this a new sense of awareness of being an oppressed people within U.S. society emerged, along with a culture of resistance and new organizations reflecting this.
Next: The Farmworkers Struggle and the 1960s
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