Coming from a life of poverty and despair would cause anyone to search for a better life; a life in which there is the belief that all of your dreams can come true. This is the belief that many Mexican immigrants had about “El Norte,” they believed that the north would provide them with the opportunity that their life in Mexico had not. Many Immigrants believed that the United States was “the land of opportunity,” a place to find a successful job and live out the life that one only dreamt about living. The North was an open paradise for the immigrants. They were told by the people who had already ventured to the north that the United States was a “simple life, in which one could live like a king or queen, but in reality immigrants were treated like slaves in the new country that promised them their dreams.
Most Immigrants who enter the United States are searching for work and the opportunity to live a better life. They are from small towns deep within Mexico that do not offer much opportunity for the people of the town to live a prosperous life and to provide for their family. In the small town of Sierra Mixteco, men women and children arrived in town at various times of the day bent over loads of fire wood gathered from the mountains to sell in the town market (King, 14).
For those who did not sell fire wood, they spent their time making straw hats to sell in the markets of larger towns, both of these jobs only provided pennies a day for the families to survive on. So the stories that the men brought back from the North gave the people of the small towns the hope that a better life did exist.
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It was typical for the men to travel to the north first in order to find a job and set up the life for his family. In the town of San Jeronimo, 85% of all men over the age of 15 had left the village in search of work in other parts of Mexico and in the United States (Light, 14).
The men would make the trip alone and would send the money that they had made to their wives and children back in the village. The trip to the North was long and very dangerous. For the men who entered the country illegally, the trip could even be deadly. For the men who did have some money, they would hire a “coyote,” a man who would help them cross the border for a price. Sometimes coyotes were legitimate people who sought to help others, while sometimes these were men who were simply out to take advantage of the desperate immigrants. Once the immigrants were across the border, they were on their own to deal with the hardships that the north provided primarily the Border Patrol. Some border patrol were kind to the immigrants while others treated them like animals (Light, 52).
For those immigrants who could escape the patrol, they were off to find jobs in the “land of opportunity.”
Many immigrants once entering found themselves working in low paying agricultural jobs working 12-hour day shifts for $3.50 a day (Light, 52).
The little money that was made was sent to the wives and families back at home. The extra that left over was used to improve the villages and towns where they came from. Many of the towns were now able to improve the roads, create electric lines, have better water systems and open up new schools. Some women did decide to immigrate alongside their husbands; if the women had children it was better to migrate to the north while the children were young because it was easier to strap a small child on the mother’s back while picking in the fields (Catalano, 52).
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The women who eventually migrated to the United States aspired to work their way out of the fields and into domestic service jobs because the women felt that these jobs were not as demeaning as working long hours out in the sun; men on the other hand dreamed of working their way from the back-breaking row crops to the tree crops (Light, 16).
Looking back over the decades at Mexican immigration, the reasons for immigration have always been the same, job opportunity, and prosperity. In the early 19th century, American contractors went down into Mexico to recruit for cheap labor. Men were needed to build the future of the United States by laying track, mining, dredging and working on the harvest. As a year’s contract was extended, and as economic independence was established, sons began following their father’s north with the hopes of prosperity for themselves.
During World War I, President Wilson called on Americans to increase U.S. manufacturing and agricultural production to meet wartime needs; this meant an increase in work needed by Mexicans in the fields. However, when thousands of young men marched off to war, this left a gap in the workforce and so the U.S. Food Administration asked the Department of Labor to ease the restriction of migrants to agricultural work. As a result, many Mexicans began to enter the skilled professional fields such as machinists, upholsterers, bookbinders, and mechanics (Catalano, 49).
Since the skilled professions offered a higher wage, it drew more large groups of Mexicans Americans to mid-western and northern cities. With the stock market crash of 1929, millions of workers were displaced and found themselves without a job. Since Mexicans were already at the lower end of the economic ladder; they found that they were being forced out of their jobs and replaced with unemployed Anglos (Catalano, 51).
For those who did not have jobs, they now found themselves in competition with Anglos for the scarce jobs that were still available. State and local governments began campaigns to remove illegal aliens, hoping that by doing so it would create more jobs for American Citizens. In Southern California, the situation was hostile, where federal and local authorities subjected Spanish-speaking people to harassment and detention on a daily basis. Although only a few illegal aliens were actually deported, the fear of deportation was so great that approximately 75,000 Mexicans left the region (Catalano, 51).
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Since many Mexican Americans were not able to work, many turned to rely on dependence from the government; this led many Americans to believe that Mexicans were simply a liability to the United States. To recover some of it’s displaced work force; the Mexican government worked with the American government who wanted to return Mexico’s former citizens, through a process known as repatriation. Many Mexicans were offered free train rides back to Mexico, but this simply moved the unemployment problem from one country to the other (Samora, 56).
Finally during World War II, the American government sought to fill the shortage that was caused by the war and so a contract was set up with Mexico to supply workers or Braceros. Thousands of Mexican workers came to the United States on temporary Visas (Catalano, 51).
Even though, many immigrants had the wish come true by finally making it to the North, all of their dreams did not come true. As seen through the decades, there was not an abundance of jobs available to immigrants and those that were available were low paying. Many immigrants simply worked until they had made enough money and then went back home to Mexico (Davis, 115).
In the fall for example, after the harvest in the valley, families of Mexican and American children would load up and head back to Mexico for weeks and months. School teachers would say, “what a shame it was that Mexicans did that to their children” (taking them out of school to travel back to Mexico).
The life of immigrants was not all that they had expected, many were homesick for their native land, but yet they did not want to convey to their families how depressing life was in the United States; they only shared the good news (Davis, 40).
As one man stated, “I want to return home more than anything else,” (Light, 56).
For those who did not stay in the United States, they returned home to their villages and towns and worked, but for those who did stay they tried to carry on and live the “American dream” in hopes that they would someday find the “Paradise” that they had heard so much about.
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