Arrival of Cheap Labor to Urbanization of the Southwest

Arrival of Railroads and Cheap Labor


American employers had used other immigrants for cheap labor, such as pools of Chinese and Japanese immigrant laborers as well as settlers from the East Coast, but failed to attain the labor stability that they had aimed for. Contractors did not arrive at the Mexican conclusion immediately. However, problems with existing labor sources increased, principally because the Asians did not blend into the American culture and Americans had gradually developed xenophobia in reaction to the incoming immigrants from Asia.[1] In addition crime was on the rise and was followed by an increase in drug smuggling from China. With the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the U.S. railroad construction and agricultural industries were barred from hiring Chinese and Japanese laborers. Later in 1895, $86,856 was levied in order to enforce this policy.[2] In addition to the growing chaotic process of finding sources of cheap labor conditions worsened further when Asian immigrant workers, especially Japanese, began to compile their resources and money to such an extent as to compete and potentially buy out their former American employers.[3] These events gave American contractors more incentive to search for a different, cheaper labor force. Contractors, growers, and employers realized they had to unearth a source of cheap labor that was also easily controllable. American contractors began to use Mexican laborers as a last resort, but soon realized the Mexicans had all the qualities of labor the Americans had desired. 

Many American employers and contractors in the southwest had viewed the Mexican as a people of inferior blood and whose only positive traits was their knowledge of manual labor and agriculture. As stated in a New York Times article in 1903 the Mexican laborer was seen as an agricultural resource because he or she had been stereotyped as skilled in such occupations as farming and manual labor because of their background in Mexico.[4] An example of the changing attitude toward use of Mexican labor came from the southwest in Texas located along the U.S.-Mexican border, Mexican labor, which is abundant down here, is coming to be appreciated and is found to be more reliable than Negro labor when properly handled.[5] These notions of reliability as well as controllability only reinforced incentives of using Mexican immigrant labor in Texas and other parts of the American southwest. Mexican laborers thus found their niche in American society because of their proclaimed economic value to employers.

Texas especially during the early twentieth century was in need of a labor force and a general consensus had been reached in that the use of the Mexican population only a few miles south of the southern-most part of Texas could be the answer to an important economic necessity, Their increasing demand for labor coincided with the serious deterioration of the position of workers, especially rural farmers, in Mexico during the Porfiriato.[6] The dependence on Mexican labor can be seen in a New York Times article/interview with a contractor named John B. Carrington who stated, We couldnt do it if we didnt have the labor. Yes, Sir, we are dependant on the Mexican farm labor supplyMexican farm labor is rapidly proving the making of this States [Texas].[7] The fact that the individual Mexican immigrant laborer at the time could earn much more while working on the railroads in the United States and Northern Mexico as opposed to Central Mexico also encouraged immigration along the railway networks. For example, A peon in the central states rarely received a wage of as much as $.15 a day. Yet the same man could go north and earn $.50 a day working railroad construction.[8] This incentive would be more than enough to create a movement of Mexicans to the northern regions of Mexico and eventually into the United States. Both attitudes in Mexico and the United States advanced large-scale immigrations of Mexicans. Concentrations of Mexicans became established across the border in the U.S. border towns. Two of these border towns eventually evolved into the Texan cities of Brownsville and El Paso.

Expansion of Railroads in the Southwest and Mexico


Before the massive immigrations the economy of the southwest was growing at a slower rate but after the labor force entered many of the newly acquired states in the southwest had rapidly expanding economies. The United States at the turn of the twentieth century was in the process of urbanizing and developing the southwest regions and states. Over the previous decades the North American government had developed an interest in Mexico and the economic potential that it offered. Railroads would be the primary economic units that would form the basis of trade between Mexico and the United States. Americans during this time period as well as contemporary scholars would strongly agree that railroads laid the foundations for one of the most explosive period of economic growth in American history.[9] The American railroads from the north that sent supplies were purposely connected to Mexico and helped Mexican immigrant laborers cross over to the United States without risking a more perilous journey by foot.

 Railroad networks in general can be given the credit of the expanding trade and industry in the United States over a period of two centuries. The cross continental railroad connected the East to the West Cost and everything in-between but southwestern railroads physically linked the United States with its neighboring nation Mexico. The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad Company [b]etter known as Katyhad more to do with the development of the southwest than almost any other factor.[10] The development of the Katy Railroad was recognized as the major railroad that aided in the development of the southwest in general. Goods were not the only economic entities that were shipped via railroad, but also laborers who worked on the railroads. Railroads that had been developed years before the Katy Railroad were not given such specific credit in the economic development of the southwest. The previously constructed railroads served as the first generations of economic conduits that supplied the southwest with labor.

Some of the railroad companies that were involved with the transnational railroad were primarily the Union Pacific, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and the Southern Pacific, all American owned companies (See Appendix Item 2c for example of Santa Fe Route). These were the leading competitors in building railroads in the United States. Texas was a major port of entry via rail by the Mexicans because many of the railways in Texas, such as the Texas Pacific Railroad, were directly connected to Mexico. These railroads were greatly expanded during the administration of Porfirio Diaz in conjunction with efforts of the United States.

Mexico, as a real junction point of the intercontinental extensions with the railway systems which are already connected with the United States, is of peculiar interest in view of the certainty of completing the section [that] will join [to the] Republic of Central America, and, ultimately, to South Americait was of supreme importance to prolong the system toward the south.[11]

The railroads were eager to hire the Mexicans and to expedite this process, some of the companies created employment agencies in order to recruit Mexican workers. One place where these agencies existed was El Paso, Texas where Mexicans crossed the border

Uploaded 03/22/2009
  • 0 Favorites
  • Stumble
  • Pin It