Abstract

This research looks at the Bracero Program and the Green Revolution in relation to their impact on rural peasant farmers in mid-twentieth-century Mexico. The Bracero Program and the Mexican Agricultural Program, which began the Green Revolution, both arose from a particular set of agricultural and economic concerns in the shadow of World War II, as the United States sought to shore up its relationship with Mexico. These contemporaneous interventions ultimately targeted the same rural populations and acted in tandem to disrupt the lives, health, and subsistence of Mexico’s peasant farming class. Drawing upon archival records relating to the Rockefeller Foundation and numerous oral histories with braceros and their families, this article shows how rural families were driven to depend on the Bracero Program in the wake of developmental policies that disrupted the peasant economy and social structures. By examining the lives of braceros and the impact of the Mexican Agricultural Program, this article illustrates how the environmental and social injustices caused by these programs came together in a way that has been overlooked by previous critiques.

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NOTES

1. Henry Wallace to Cordell Hull (hereafter, “Wallace-Hull letter”), Dec. 16, 1940, Reel 22, MSC0177, Henry Agard Wallace Papers, University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections, Iowa City, IA (hereafter, HAW Papers, UILSC), http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/wallace/id/20131 (accessed June 7, 2021); Matt Reintjes to James A. Farley, July 2, 1940, HAW Papers, UILSC, http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/wallace/id/19898 (accessed June 7, 2021).
2. Ávila Camacho to Henry Wallace, Jan. 3, 1941, HAW Papers, UILSC, http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/wallace/id/20358 (accessed June 7, 2021); “Good Neighbors,” Capital Times (Madison, WI), Dec. 31, 1940, 29; John C. Culver and John Hyde, American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 250; Carl Sauer, “Memo regarding Wallace’s ideas for a program in Mexico,” Feb. 5, 1941, Folder 63, Box 10, Series 323, RG 1.2, Rockefeller Foundation Records (hereafter, RFC), Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, NY (hereafter, RAC).
3. Wallace-Hull letter; “Wallace Off On Trip Today,” New York Times, Dec. 8, 1940, 36; Deborah Cohen, “Caught in the Middle: The Mexican State’s Relationship with the United States and Its Own Citizen-Workers, 1942-1954,” Journal of American Ethnic History 20, no. 3 (Spring 2001): 111; Kitty Calavita, Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the I.N.S. (New York: Routledge, 1992), 1.
4. For criticism of the Green Revolution, see Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2008); and Angus Lindsay Wright, The Death of Ramón González: The Modern Agricultural Dilemma (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990). For a survey of recent trends on the Green Revolution, see “Roundtable: New Narratives of the Green Revolution,” Agricultural History 91, no. 3 (Summer 2017): 397-422. For debates about the Green Revolution in Mexico, see David Barkin, “The End to Food Self-Sufficiency in Mexico,” Latin American Perspectives 14, no. 3 (Summer 1987): 271-97; and Joseph Cotter, “The Origins of the Green Revolution in Mexico: Continuity or Change?” in Latin America in the 1940s: War and Postwar Transitions, ed. David Rock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 224-41. For criticism of the Bracero Program, see Don Mitchell, “Battle/fields: Braceros, Agribusiness, and the Violent Reproduction of the California Agricultural Landscape during World War II,” Journal of Historical Geography 36 (2010): 143-56; and Cohen, “Caught in the Middle,” 110-32.
5. For more details on efforts of campesinos to secure their land and livelihood, both before and after the Mexican Agricultural Program, see Tanalís Padilla’s Rural Resistance in the Land of Zapata: The Jaramillista Movement and the Myth of the Pax-Priísta, 1940-1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009); and Alexander Aviña, Specters of Revolution: Peasant Guerrillas in the Cold War Mexican Countryside (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). Many of these oral histories were conducted by Mireya Loza and her team and were utilized in her groundbreaking book, Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).
6. Enrique Ochoa, Feeding Mexico: The Political Uses of Food since 1910 (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 2000), 72; William Ascher and Natalia Mirovitskaya, Economic Development Strategies and the Evolution of Violence in Latin America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 44; Wallace-Hull letter; Henry Wallace to Nelson Rockefeller, Dec. 26, 1940, HAW Papers, UILSC, http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/wallace/id/20211 (accessed June 7, 2021); Norman Borlaug to Richard Laster, Feb. 15, 2005, Folder 16, Box 40, uarc 1014, Norman E. Borlaug Papers, 1930-2006, University of Minnesota Libraries, University Archives, Minneapolis, MN (hereafter, UMLUA), http://purl.umn.edu/106859 (accessed June 7, 2021); for more information, see Tore Olsson, Agrarian Crossings: Reformers and the Remaking of the US and Mexican Countryside (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018), particularly Chpt. 4, in which Olsson gives credit for the creation of the Mexican Agricultural Program to two lesser-known individuals, RF employee John A. Ferrell and US ambassador to Mexico Josephus Daniels, while biologist and environmental historian John H. Perkins dismisses their early contributions in his own book, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 106.
7. Sauer, “Memo regarding Wallace’s ideas”; Frédérique Apffel-Marglin and Stephen A. Marglin, Decolonizing Knowledge: From Development to Dialogue (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 212; Carl O. Sauer to Joseph H. Willits, Dec. 12, 1945, Folder 5, Box 3, Joseph Willits Papers, (hereafter, JW Papers), RAC; Carl O. Sauer to Joseph H. Willits, June 13, 1952, JW Papers, RAC.
8. Jacob George Harrar, “A Pattern for International Collaboration in Agriculture,” Advances in Agronomy (1954), reprinted in Jacob George Harrar, Strategy toward the Conquest of Hunger (New York: Rockefeller Foundation, 1967), 26; Sauer, “Memo regarding Wallace’s ideas”; Carl O. Sauer to Joseph H. Willits, Feb. 12, 1945, JW Papers, RAC.
9. Olsson, Agrarian Crossings, 143-44; Jonathan Harwood, “Peasant Friendly Plant Breeding and the Early Years of the Green Revolution in Mexico,” Agricultural History 83, no. 3 (2009): 390-91.
10. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Address at Monterrey, Mexico,” Apr. 20, 1943, available online through Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, “American Presidency Project,” https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/address-monterrey-mexico (accessed June 24, 2021).
11. Cohen, “Caught in the Middle,” 116-17.
12. Roosevelt, “Address at Monterrey”; Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodriguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995), 150-51; Jaime R. Aguila and Brian Gratton, “Mirando atrás: Mexican Immigration from 1876 to 2000,” in Migrants and Migration in Modern North America: Cross-Border Lives, Labor Markets, and Politics, ed. Dirk Hoerder and Nora Helen Faires (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 59-61; Jaime R. Aguila, “Mexican/U.S. Immigration Policy Prior to the Great Depression,” Diplomatic History 31, no. 2 (2007): 220; Manuel Gamio, “Observations on Mexican Immigration into the United States,” Pacific Affairs 2, no. 8 (1929): 469.
13. Karin Matchett, “At Odds over Inbreeding: An Abandoned Attempt at Mexico/United States Collaboration to ‘Improve’ Mexican Corn, 1940-1950,” Journal of the History of Biology 39, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 346, 367-68; Edmund K. Oasa and Bruce W. Jennings, “La Naturaleza De La Investigació Social en La Agricultura Internacional: La Experiencia Norteamericana, El IRRI y El CIMMYT,” El Trimestre Económico 49, no. 196(4) (Oct.-Dec. 1982): 991; Apffel-Marglin and Marglin, Decolonizing Knowledge, 27; Olsson, Agrarian Crossings, 147; Fábio de Castro, Barbara Hogenboom, and Michiel Baud, Environmental Governance in Latin America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 92; Matthew Caire-Pérez, “A Different Shade of Green: Efraím Hernández, Chapingo, and Mexico’s Green Revolution, 1950-1967” (PhD diss., University of Oklahoma, 2016), 102, 107-10; Joseph H. Willits, “Memorandum regarding the study of efforts to help backward peoples to help themselves,” June 22, 1949, Folder 332, Box 60, series 900, RG 3.2, RFC: Administration, Program & Policy, RAC; Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution, 115.
14. “Texts of Addresses of Aleman and Truman in Mexico City,” New York Times, Mar. 4, 1947, 2; “No Intervención, Pero Tampoco Indiferencia,” Excélsior (Mexico City), Mar. 4, 1947.
15. Wayne A. Grove, “The Mexican Farm Labor Program, 1942-1964: Government-Administered Labor Market Insurance for Farmers,” Agricultural History 70, no. 2 (1996): 303-4; Deborah Cohen, Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 25, 213, 216; Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 152-56.
16. Olsson, Agrarian Crossings, 153-54; Ochoa, Feeding Mexico, 101; Gladys McCormick, The Logic of Compromise in Mexico: How the Countryside Was Key to the Emergence of Authoritarianism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 5-6; Jacob George Harrar, “Fertilizer and Pesticide Use in Mexico,” Agricultural Chemicals (1955), reprinted in Harrar, Strategy toward the Conquest of Hunger, 62; Wright, Death of Ramón González, 183; Jacob George Harrar, “Technical Aid and Agricultural Chemistry,” Agricultural and Food Chemistry (1955), reprinted in Harrar, Strategy toward the Conquest of Hunger, 69; Interview with Eleuterio Flores G. by Violeta Domínguez, July 31, 2003, Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso (hereafter IOH-UTEP); David A. Sonnenfeld, “Mexico’s ‘Green Revolution,‘ 1940-1980: Towards an Environmental History,” Environmental History Review 16, no. 4 (1992): 31-32.
17. Interview with Juventino Muñoz P. by Anaís Acosta, Mar. 18, 2010, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Alberto Mendoza Torres by Violeta Domínguez, Sept. 26, 2006, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Pablo C. Flores by Alejandra Díaz, Jan. 5, 2008, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Vicente Ramírez by Steve Velásquez, July 25, 2005, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Jesús Andrade Rodríguez by Laureano Martínez, Feb. 1, 2003, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Antonio Aragón by Mireya Loza, July 2, 2008, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Manuel Garcia by Mario Sifuentes, May 20, 2006, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Ramón Ávila Hernández by Laureano Martínez, June 6, 2003, IOH-UTEP.
18. Interview with Imelda Diaz Pacheco by Mireya Loza, July 3, 2008, IOH-UTEP; Interview with María Guadalupe Salcedo Gudiño by Mireya Loza, 2008, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Isidro Abrego Alvarado by Laureano Martínez, 2003, IOH-UTEP; Interview with María C. Ayon by Violeta Mena, May 26, 2006, IOH-UTEP.
19. Harry E. Cross and James A. Sandos, Across the Border: Rural Development in Mexico and Recent Migration to the United States (Berkeley, CA: Institute of Governmental Studies, 1981), 25-26.
20. Cohen, Braceros, 31, 224, 245. Braceros would continue the fight for these savings all the way up until 2008, when the Mexican government finally approved a one-time payment of $3,500 to those who could prove they had been a bracero at least once during the 1940s; see Eduardo Venezian and William K. Gamble, The Agricultural Development of Mexico: Its Structure and Growth Since 1950 (New York: Praeger, 1969), 58; Ochoa, Feeding Mexico, 72; Amelia M. Kiddle, Mexico’s Relations with Latin America during the Cárdenas Era (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016), 144.
21. Interview with Bárbaro Chacón Delgado by Myrna Parra Mantilla, Dec. 22, 2003, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Enriqueta Quintero by Mireya Loza, May 24, 2006, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Félix Flores Juan by Mireya Loza, 2008, IOH-UTEP.
22. Mayra Lizette Avila, “La Pena Negra: Mexican Women, Gender, and Labor during the Bracero Program, 1942-1964” (PhD diss., University of Texas at El Paso, 2018), 145-46; Ana Elizabeth Rosas, Abrazando el Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the US-Mexico Border (Oakland: University of California Press, 2014), 101-11.
23. Ana Elizabeth Rosas, “Breaking the Silence: Mexican Children and Women’s Confrontation of Bracero Family Separation, 1942-64,” Gender & History 23, no. 2 (Aug. 2011): 382-83; Cohen, Braceros, 84.
24. Interview with Ramiro Solis by Cristina Berumen, Nov. 20, 2008, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Florencio Magallanes by Myrna Parra-Mantilla, May 11, 2003, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Elías García Venzor by Myrna Parra-Mantilla, May 9, 2003, IOH-UTEP; Interview with J. Ezequiel Acevedo Perez by Anabel Mota, May 12, 2006, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Luis Zamudio by Susan Zamudio, Mar. 23, 2008, IOH-UTEP.
25. Interview with Nicolás Grimaldo Andrade by Mireya Loza, June 23, 2008, IOH-UTEP; Interview with M. Belen Acevedo by Anabel Mota, May 12, 2006, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Saturnino González Díaz by Magdalena Mieri, Aug. 31, 2005, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Manuel Chávez Romo by Violeta Mena, May 24, 2006, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Isabel Rodríguez by Alma Carrillo, May 20, 2006, IOH-UTEP.
26. Interview with Antonio Nuño by Annette Shreibati, May 19, 2009, IOH-UTEP; Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease, “Toxic Substances Portal—Malathion,” Centers for Disease Control and Protection, https://wwwn.cdc.gov/TSP/substances/ToxSubstance.aspx?toxid=92 (reviewed Feb. 10, 2021; accessed June 24, 2021); Don Mitchell, They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012), 314; Cohen, Braceros, 9; Interview with Francisco Ceceña by Grisel Murillo, May 23, 2006, IOH-UTEP; Linda Nash, “The Fruits of Ill-Health: Pesticides and Workers’ Bodies in Post-World War II California,” Osiris, 2nd Series, 19, Landscapes of Exposure: Knowledge and Illness in Modern Environments (2004): 212; Interview with Antonio Sierra García by Mireya Loza, July 3, 2008, IOH-UTEP.
27. Interview with Jesus Aceves Gutierres by Violeta Mena, May 20, 2006, IOH-UTEP; Harrar, “Fertilizer and Pesticide Use,” 61.
28. Cohen, Braceros, 25; John T. Wilson Jr., “A Symposium on Pesticides: Occupational Health Problems Posed by Agricultural Pesticides,” American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health 53, no. 9 (1963): 1435; Interview with Rafael Gonzalez M. by Anaís Acosta, Mar. 20, 2010, IOH-UTEP; Interview with Pedro Torres by Anaís Acosta, Jan. 7, 2008, IOH-UTEP.
29. Thomas H. Jukes, “People and Pesticides,” American Scientist 51, no. 3 (Sept. 1963): 358; “Who’s for DDT?” Time 98, no. 21 (Nov. 22, 1971): 88; Lane Simonian, Defending the Land of the Jaguar: A History of Conservation in Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 172.
30. Elizabeth Lamoree, “Gambling on Grapes: Management, Marketing, and Labor in California Agribusiness,” Agricultural History 86, no. 3 (Summer 2012): 108; Cohen, Braceros, 216.
31. Maxwell S. Stewart, That No Man Shall Hunger! (New York: Public Affairs Committee, 1960); Nick Cullather, The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle against Poverty in Asia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 43-44.
32. Cullather, The Hungry World, 62-63; Joseph Cotter, Troubled Harvest: Agronomy and Revolution in Mexico 1880-2002 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003), 196; Cross and Sandos, Across the Border, 18, 31; Letter from Carl O. Sauer to Joseph H. Willits, June 13, 1952, JW Papers, RAC.
33. “Minutes of the Board of Consultants for Agriculture of the Rockefeller Foundation, October 25th and 26th, 1955,” Folder 33, Box 5, uarc 1017, Elvin C. Stakman Papers, 1918-1973 (hereafter, ES Papers), UMLUA, http://purl.umn.edu/105743 (accessed June 7, 2021); “Minutes of the Board of Consultants for Agriculture of the Rockefeller Foundation, November 1st and 2nd, 1956,” Folder 35, Box 5, ES Papers, UMLUA, http://purl.umn.edu/105745 (accessed June 7, 2021); Cotter, Troubled Harvest, 197; Cross and Sandos, Across the Border, 24-26, 28.
34. Ochoa, Feeding Mexico, 72; Food and Agriculture Organization, The State of Food and Agriculture 1960 (Rome: UN FAO, 1960), 18-19, 22.
35. Eduardo L. Venezian and William K. Gamble, The Agricultural Development of Mexico: Its Structure and Growth Since 1950 (New York: Praeger, 1969), 87, 175.
36. Venezian and Gamble, Agricultural Development of Mexico, 67, 78; Harwood, “Peasant Friendly Plant Breeding,” 389.
37. Interview with Santos Alejandro González by Mireya Loza, June 22, 2008, IOH-UTEP; Ngai, Impossible Subjects, 142.
38. Harwood, “Peasant Friendly Plant Breeding,” 387-88, 391; Olsson, Agrarian Crossings, 144-46; Cross and Sandos, Across the Border, 25.
39. Interview with Belizario Luna Pulido by Laureano Martínez, May 31, 2003, IOH-UTEP; Cross and Sandos, Across the Border, 28-29, 44.
40. Venezian and Gamble, Agricultural Development of Mexico, 98.
41. Norman Borlaug, quoted in Gregg Easterbrook, “Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity,” The Atlantic Monthly, Jan. 1997, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/01/forgotten-benefactor-of-humanity/306101/ (accessed June 24, 2021); Lane Simonian, Defending the Land of the Jaguar: A History of Conservation in Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 114-15.
42. Bryan Adlard et al., “Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Metals in Primiparous Women: A Comparison from Canada and Mexico,” The Science of the Total Environment 500-501 (Dec. 1, 2014): 302; Sandra Rodríguez-Dozal et al., “Persistent Organic Pollutant Concentrations in First Birth Mothers Across Mexico,” Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology 22, no. 1 (Jan. 2012): 60; for discussion of transgenes in corn, see Elizabeth M. Fitting, The Struggle for Maize: Campesinos, Workers, and Transgenic Corn in the Mexican Countryside (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); and Laura Vargas-Parada, “GM Maize Splits Mexico: Legal Challenge to Transgenic Crops Has Created a Rift in the Country’s Scientific Community,” Nature 511 (July 2014): 16-17; Richard Marosi, “Hardship on Mexico’s Farms, A Bounty for U.S. Tables,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 7, 2014, http://graphics.latimes.com/product-of-mexico-camps (accessed June 24, 2021).
43. Interview with Alma Delia Fraile Barozio by Mireya Loza, Dec. 21, 2007, IOH-UTEP.