Learning Target: I can explain the role of immigration on U.S. labor history.

Do Now: What is the difference between migration and immigration?

“Flotsam and Jetsam”

(from Destination: America: Episode 01: The Golden Door)
  1. What immigration laws were passed in the 1920s?
  2. What effect did the Immigration Act of 1924 have on Mexican immigration?
  3. What was life like for Mexican immigrants in the 1920s?

History textbooks don’t say much about the experience of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the United States between the years of 1848, when the Mexican-American war ended, and 1942, after WWII began and Mexicans were brought in as contract workers through the Bracero Program.

This absence calls for you to think like a historian. We know that tens of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican Americans lived in the United States after the Mexican War, but we don’t have a very clear sense of what life was like.


Reading: Railroad Labor Reading: “Corrido Pensilvanio” Reading: Lynching
  • Nayeli
  • Noe
  • Michael
  • Devonte
  • Carlos
  • 🗣 Stephanie
  • Alexander
  • Crystal
  • Soriel
  • Edward
  • David
  • Jose
  • Josue
  • Matthew
  • Eric
  • Jeremiah
  • Shakira
  • Emarie
  • Atiba
  • Kathryn
  • Dallana
  • Elizabeth
  • Axel
  • BG
  • Emily
  • Katia
  • Yaritza
  • Annalis
  • Anthony
  • Evelyn
  • Document A

    Paul Taylor writes: The interviews took place at one of the railroad labor camps of a type frequently seen in and near Chicago. The camp consists of old box cars taken from their tracks. Additions have in some cases been built to provide extra rooms, covered porches, or open floors. There are gardens, chickens, and even pigs, with the usual cats and dogs. The first man I spoke to had a box car with the addition of a covered porch and a screen for flies. His wife was sick but the rest of the family was well.

    I left Mexico in 1919, when there was good work in Texas. My first job was digging ditches. The good work lasted about a year and a half. Then I was laid off. So were many, many Mexicans. Some of them had worked there a long time but they kept the Americans. It made some of us mad but what could we do? Nothing.

    I went North to Detroit in hope things would be better. Then to Pittsburgh. But they were worse. In 1923, I came to Chicago and worked for the steel mills. I like the work there. It pays well. It is very hot and heavy but I could stand that. Then I was laid off. I did not work for three months and I was desperate. Finally I landed here. I have been here four years.

    The track work does not pay so well but it is steady. Out here we get our coal and water free. That makes it very nice in the winter. In the summer we have ice and that is a great luxury. We have no rent bill to pay and that makes it very much better than in town. There is always plenty of fresh air and sunshine and the children like it here because they can play in the open country.

    We get La Prensa here and when I finish reading it I pass it to someone else. One man gets a paper from Los Angeles in California. That is a pretty place and I have often heard so much about it. There are many Mexicans there and we hear from them very often. Many of the people around here would like to go there. They say the people down there are so very happy and it is not cold like it is here.

    Source: Between 1927-1930, sociologist Paul Taylor conducted interviews with Mexican immigrants living in Chicago. The interview above was probably conducted in 1928.

    Document B: “Corrido Pensilvanio”

    El 28 de Abril

    A las seis de la manana

    Salimos en un enganche

    Para el estado de Pensilvania

    Mi chinita me decia

    Yo me voy en esa agenciaPara

    lavarle su ropa

    Para darle su asistencia.

    El enganchista me dijo,

    No lleves a tu familia

    Para no pasar trabajo

    Es en el estado de West Virginia.

    Para que sepas que te quiero

    Me dejas en Fort Worth

    Y cuando ya estes trabajando

    Me escribes de donde estes.

    Adios Fort Worth y Dallas,

    Por no de mucha importancia

    Yo me voy para Pensilvania

    Por no andar en la vagancia.

    Al llegar al steel mill worque,

    Que vemos la locomotora

    Y salimos corriendo

    Ochenta millas por hora!

    Cuando llegamos alla

    Y del tren nos bajamos,

    Preguntan las italianas,

    De donde vienen, Mexicanos?

    Responden los Mexicanos

    Los que ya saben “inglear”

    Venimos en un engache

    Del pueblo de Fort Worth

    On the 28th of April

    At six o’clock in the morning

    We set out under contract

    For the state of Pennsylvania.

    My little sweetheart said to me,

    “I’m going into that officeAnd

    say I’ll wash your clothes

    And take care of you.”

    The contractor said to me,

    “Don’t take your family

    Or you’ll pass up this job

    It’s in the state of West Virginia.”

    “So you’ll know that I love you,

    When you leave me in Fort Worth,

    And you have started working,

    Write me from where you are.

    Goodbye, Fort Worth and Dallas,

    You’re not much to me now,

    I’m going to Pennsylvania

    To be a vagrant no more.

    When we got to the steel works

    We saw the locomotive

    And we came running

    At eighty miles an hour!

    When we arrived there

    And got off the train

    The Italian girls asked us,

    “Where do you come from, Mexicans?”

    The Mexicans reply,

    Those who know how “to English,”

    “We come out under contract

    From the town of Forth Worth.”

    Source: A corrido is a Mexican narrative song or ballad that is passed around in the oral tradition. The corrido highlights important social, political and cultural issues that affect Mexican and Mexican American communities.

    Document C: Lynching

    In September 1911, four hundred Mexican activists assembled in Laredo, Texas. The delegates denounced the brutal oppression of their people that had continued unchecked since the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). It was agreed to establish a new civil rights organization with the purpose of protecting its members against white injustice. La Grán Liga Mexicanista de Benefiencia y Protección intended to attract the support of wealthy philanthropists and the liberal press in order "to strike back at the hatred of some bad sons of Uncle Sam who believe themselves better than the Mexicans because of the magic that surrounds the word white".

    In 1929, Mexicans founded another defense agency, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). LULAC organizers experienced difficulty mobilizing Mexican Americans, especially in small towns and remote rural areas. The only way to prevent further lynchings was for Mexicans to rally in protest. Yet it was the very fear of mob violence that frightened [many] into silence.


    How is the history of Mexican immigration similar to Africa American migration? How is it different?

    Did anything about the history of Mexican American labor surprise you? Why?

    What additional questions do you have about labor and race in the early 20th century?