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April 11, 2022

Georgetown Americas Institute and Americas Forum Conclude First Part in the Crossing Borders Series

The Georgetown Americas Institute (GAI) and the Georgetown College Americas Forum concluded the first part of a series titled “Crossing Borders: Leaving Home, Making New Lives, Sustaining Communities,” focusing on the origins of migrations between Mexico and the United States during the twentieth century.

Top Row: John Tutino and Larisa Veloz; Bottom Row: John Tutino and Mireya Loza
Top Row: John Tutino and Larisa Veloz; Bottom Row: John Tutino and Mireya Loza

Women Crossing Borders

On February 2, 2022, Americas Forum director John Tutino moderated a presentation by Larisa Veloz (G’15), assistant professor of history at the University of Texas-El Paso. Veloz offered a unique perspective on the role that women played in migrations before the Bracero Program in the 1940s.

“Although most narratives of this era describe men crossing the border, women and children also crossed, as well as the elderly,” Veloz said. “Extended families were regularly embarking on these cross-border journeys during the first decades of the twentieth century, and they did so for family-centered reasons.”

Both men and women crossed the border to work and to support binational families. By 1920, 65% of migrations were attributed to individuals wanting to reunite with or visit family members in the United States.

“The most obvious change in family dynamics during this period was that women became laborers and co-household providers in the United States,” Veloz said.

Mexican Guestworkers in U.S. Fields

On February 9, 2022, Tutino invited Mireya Loza, associate professor in the Department of History and American Studies at Georgetown, to present. Loza provided a historical overview of the Bracero Program and the H-2 Program, as well as the exploitation found in both.

Between 1941 and 1964, the Bracero Program managed over 4.5 million contracts. The H-2 Program that followed continued to access Mexican labor, offering promises of higher wages and affordable housing. According to Loza:

“Once at the work sites, migrants found themselves laboring for low wages and living in terrible conditions. The experience of these workers reveals the real problem with guest worker programs, where power is so asymmetrical that workers cannot stand up for themselves when their labor rights or their human rights are violated.”

Top Row: Marcella Hardin and John Tutino; Bottom Row: Rubén Hernández-León and John Tutino
Top Row: Marcella Hardin and John Tutino; Bottom Row: Rubén Hernández-León and John Tutino

Medicine and the Roots of Migrations

On February 16, 2022, Tutino discussed the historical importance of ecology in contemporary discussions on migration. Marcella Hardin, a doctoral student in the Department of History at Georgetown, served as moderator.

In the third pattern of migration in Latin America, historic flows of people came from Latin America to Mexico and the United States.

“Steady flows of people came from Mexico to the United States from 1900 to 1950, many to labor, others to make families,” Tutino said. “Around the same time, after World War II, penicillin and other medicines perfected by British and American doctors were also made widely available across the world.”

During this period, many migrated to Mexico City and other prominent Mexican cities, both for employment but also for access to life-saving medicines. For Tutino, this ecological reality needs to be included in contemporary discussions on migration, which often focus solely on border policies and political interests.

“We will never gain meaningful improvement unless we take on the difficult, often contradictory conversations about how the triumphs that made and sustain our globalizing world also generated its gravest challenges,” Tutino said.

Monterrey and Urban-Origin Migration

On February 28, 2022, Rubén Hernández-León, professor of sociology and director of the Latin American Institute at UCLA, discussed the role of Monterrey in the U.S.-Mexico migratory system, with Tutino as moderator.

After the Mexican Revolution, Monterrey grew as an industrial hub and became economically connected with the United States. By the mid-1950s, the city became the largest urban industrial center in northern Mexico.

“Monterrey became a magnet for internal migration coming from north-eastern and north-central Mexico,” Hernández-León said. “Many braceros used their savings to finance internal migration —that is, urban migration from their villages and ranchos to Monterrey.”

By the mid-1950s, Monterrey became a processing center for the Bracero Program and a focal point of transit for many Mexicans on the move.

“Monterrey has now emerged as the world capital for processing H-2 visas. In summary, Monterrey has played the role of a border metropolis in the Mexico-U.S. migratory system.”

The Crossing Borders series is hosted by the Georgetown College Americas Forum and co-sponsored by the Georgetown Americas Institute. The second part of the series started on March 28, 2022.