25 Jul Exception to the Rule
They left their country as people, they arrived as laborers.
I can hear my mother say, “Who’s gonna clean their homes? Who’s gonna work the fields? Los americanos don’t want to do that.”
In the process of drafting my final essay I have run into a disturbing theme about United States immigration that explains some of the history behind Latino immigration. The change in global politics at the beginning of the 20th century moved the United States into its cloak of isolation. On the dawn of Nativism the United States passed laws that fundamentally changed immigration in the United States; corroborated by the fears of World War I, the legislature passed laws that placed quotas on the number of immigrants allowed into the nation. These quotas reinforced the misconceptions of immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia, because the quotas specifically capped the amount of immigrants from these regions. But at the time that the United States closed its shores off from immigrants, Mexican immigrants were coming in boxcars to Topeka. But how did Mexican immigrants come into a nation that had enacted immigration quota laws in 1917, 1921, 1924, and 1929? They did not come into the United States as immigrants; they came in as laborers. When Congress passed the first law restricting immigration in 1917 industrialists that depended off the labor of Mexican immigrants pressured the legislature to exclude Mexicans from specific sections of the law. Six months after the law passed, Mexicans became the exception to the rule: they were allowed to immigrate because they were exploitable labor. This action was the beginning of an allegory that would follow the Mexican community until contemporary times. In Topeka the labor allegory was reinforced by the location and the conditions of the Mexican community. A majority of the immigrants lived in boxcars and lived in a community that was bordered off by railroads. Everything about this community revolved around their labor: they came into the United States to work on the railroad, they lived near the railroad, they lived in boxcars, all of their public health services came from the railroad. The railroad branded immigrants as laborers. Unfortunately, this identity still follows the Mexican community in an insidious way. When immigration debates arise in the United States the first rebuke from the Mexican community is our demographic’s place in the labor sector. The knee-jerk reaction is to recite statistics about the number of Mexican laborers in the agriculture sector. Remnants of a Mexican identity forged by labor continues to influence the rhetoric we hear today. Although well intended, these arguments about Mexican labor erase the progress this community has made socially and politically. When will this change?
I want to hear my mother say, “Who will run their government? Who will teach at their universities? Los mexicanos have been doing that for a while.”