viernes, junio 02, 2006

Wetbacks, Braceros and EZLN

I found this interesting article at a web page called The Ely Times.

It talks about how some issues that may seem as isolate situations are actually linked. Now, the article dwells a bit on the big scare for a lot of US citizens now a days, the so called Reconquista and a concept most Anglos don't quite understand: Aztlan.

Here it is:

'Operation Wetback' to Aztlan

By Kent Harper

Published on Friday, June 02, 2006

Although the term is as degrading as any ethnic slur, it was popularized by the U.S. government and fell into common use, often applied to anyone of Hispanic heritage.

“Operation Wetback” started in Texas in mid-July 1954. In its few months of operation through the fall of 1954, approximately 1.3 million Mexicans who had entered the United States illegally were either deported or left the country on their own.

Or at least that was the claim by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). But the “Handbook of Texas Online,” a project of the University of Texas at Austin, notes that official numbers were far below that amount.

The operation was limited to Texas and came about because of a backlash to a legal guest-worker program.

The Braceros

The guest-workers were the braceros. The Braceros Treaty was signed between the United States and Mexico in 1942, allowing Mexicans to be hired to work for American employers.

Most American workers, especially the unskilled and underpaid, were going into the Army and Navy to fight in World War II. Many Mexican nationals also stepped forward and wanted to enlist into the American Armed Forces.

But the country desperately needed workers more than it needed foreign soldiers. The first braceros were hired to pick sugar beets in Stockton, Calif., but soon spread through the nation's agricultural regions, concentrating in the Southwest.

A separate braceros program for railroad workers also was started, at first only for unskilled track laborers. But eventually skilled Mexican railroadmen also were hired. That segment of the program was curtailed with the end of World War II and lacked the controversy that followed the agricultural braceros.

At first, the farm braceros got a lot of positive press. They were called our “Soldiers of the Fields” and they did indeed help the war effort. Still, they spoke a different language, ate different food and had different customs. They were housed in barracks and kept away from mainstream, war-time American life.

But if they weren't fully appreciated, they were at least tolerated.

Except in Texas.

Mexicans had been crossing the border to work on U.S. farms since the days of Pancho Villa. The U.S. Congress had recognized that many of these workers were being exploited by the growers and instituted a Good Neighbor Policy with Mexico to protect workers' rights. The limited policy was viewed as successful by both nations and cleared the way for the Braceros Treaty.

But Mexico, according to the University of Texas website, excluded Texas from the program because of its shoddy treatment of Mexicans (dom-estic as well as foreign) and its widespread violation of worker contracts. That didn't stop Texas farmers from hiring the easily available illegal workers, however.

The braceros -- no matter where they worked -- were underpaid by U.S. standards. While Texas continued to hired thousands of illegals, many of the legal workers skipped out on their jobs for higher-paid jobs. The INS reported that the braceros program was adding thousands to the number of illegal workers in America.

According to the “Hand-book of Texas Online,” the INS, under pressure from the agricultural industry, retaliated in Texas in 1951. It allowed thousands of workers to cross the border, then arrested them and turned them over to the Texas Employment Commis-sion, which provided them to grower groups in Texas and elsewhere.

Nothing stopped the influx of illegal workers. The years 1944 through 1954 are called the “decade of the wetback” by the INS at the time.Illegal immigration increased by 6,000 % during that period.

The cheap, illegal labor replaced all the previous workers on the cotton farms of the Rio Grande Valley. The increased violation of labor laws encouraged more crime. Squalid living conditions for the workers became a public health issue. Cotton-pickers were paid about half the amount paid farm workers in other parts of Texas.

Operation Wetback

The U.S. decided in must rid itself of the problem, and “Operation Wetback” started in July 1954.

Authorities stopped anyone on the street who looked Mexican and demanded proof of citizenship or legal residency. They focused on American-Mexican neighborhoods.

Many legal residents and naturally born citizens were rounded up with the illegals and deported.

The heavy-handed practices of the INS, and state and local lawmen who cooperated with it, are a large part of the concerns today in the Hispanic community that any crackdown on illegals will become a racist, anti-Mexican drive.

The braceros program was ended in 1964. But distrust of such programs live on. Ten-percent of the earnings of the braceros were sent back to banks in Mexico for the workers' retirement. But none of the braceros ever saw a peso of the money. Like much in Mexico, it was “lost” in the paperwork.

Suits have been filed, the Mexican Congress has considered several other ways of reimbursing the braceros, most of who are now in their 70s and 80s. But all that's happened is a deepening mistrust by the Mexican people of their government and its dealings with the U.S. government.

The EZLN and La Raza

That's no more evident than in the EZLN movement, which started in 1994 in southern Mexico. EZLN stands for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. It advocates many of the reforms preached by Emelio Zapata, a contemporary of Villa. But while Zapata wanted land reform for the peasants, reduced power of Catholic Church and greater democracy, the EZLN has a more global view.

It's opposed to what it calls neo-liberalism -- the attempts of the industrial nations, especially the U.S., to advance open trade with Third World countries. The EZLN calls this little more than the spread of capitalism to increase its controls over the indigenous peoples of the developing world and to steal their land and livelihood. The EZLN also is anti-Israel and opposed to U.S. foreign policy.

There are several other movements, no only in Mexico, but throughout Central and South America, and even in the U.S., that label themselves “La Raza” -- the people. While EZLN is playing to the indigenous peoples, La Raza is geared toward the mixed race: brown-skinned people who have European, as well as Indian, ancestry.

Back to Aztlan

In California, there is MEChA -- the Student Movement of Chicanos of Aztlan. MEChA advocates the reestablishment of Aztlan -- the mythological home of the Aztec people. No one knows where the Aztecs came from before settling in Tenochtitlan -- now Mexico City.

But MEChA and other “Raza” groups suggest Aztlan was located in the portions of the United States seized from Mexico after the U.S.-Mexican War.

Some of these groups claim that Mexican culture will eventually become the dominant culture in those states “purchased” from Mexico. They propose that the area becomes officially bilingual and that the borders become almost non-existent.

Other more radical elements advocate a violent political takeover with a new nation -- the Republic of Northern Mexico -- to be established between the U.S. and Mexico.

Such movements are still a minority in Mexico. But they are growing.

Vicente Fox promised to settle the EZLN problem in 󈫿 minutes” and improve the Mexican economy. As his term as president ends, he's been able to do neither.

A Greater Problem

The problem facing the United States goes well beyond control of our borders -- but controlling that southern border is fundamental to any long-term solution. Fences will work only as long as they are patrolled. That means spending far more on the Border Patrol or using the National Guard or regular Army.

Militarizing the border will increase our problems with Mexico. The Mexicans have learned, even if we've forgotten, that U.S. troops on our side of the border, have too often crossed to their side.

Troops stationed there to stop illegal immigration might be used later crush the illegal drug trade, or any other problem we perceive as a threat in northern Mexico. President Bush is aware of this Mexican concern and proposed to limit the roll of the National Guard because of it.

It may, however, be the only way to seal the border.

The Senate bill authorizing a “pathway to citizenship” also would fail. Most of the unskilled Mexicans who have come here illegally do not trust government: neither ours nor their own. They have lived their lives by remaining “below the radar screen.” They will not come forward to pay fines and taxes, it's just not in their nature. They've learned the hard way that government is not there for their benefit.

It's a tough problem to solve. There are many people on both sides of the border who would like to see it dissolved, much as they are trying to do in Europe. But joining those who rightfully oppose open borders or looser immigration rules with Mexico, we also have white supremists and other radical, racist groups trying to seize an issue that will resonate with the American people.

We ignore this problem at our ultimate peril. Whatever we do, whatever method we choose to protect our borders, can't be one that allows us to forget about what's going on in Mexico and further south. We live in a hemisphere with people who were conquered and oppressed by those first Europeans. Many of our illegal workers have never known a better life, and while we defend our sovereignty, we also must treat them with compassion.

Because of increased education and better communications throughout the Americas, the native peoples are coming into their own as a political power.

And those who ignore that fact -- those who think they can hide behind a wall -- are in jeopardy of being swallowed by Aztlan.

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