|Abstract:||In March 1929, Guanajuato’s governor, Agustín Arroyo, received a letter from the Secretaria de Gobernación informing him that between 1926 and 1928, over 25,000 people, many of them braceros (workers), had left the state. The letter continues by urging the governor to take an active role in diminishing the number of migrants leaving Guanajuato, which was suffering under the strain of the large exodus of able-bodied workers. Almost a century later, this is still the case. During the early twentieth century, Guanajuato was one of the three top sending states of Mexican migrants, and it is the most prolific sending state in the twenty-first century. In 2020, an estimated 37,000 people will leave the state.
“De Guanajuato to Green Bay: A Generational Story of Labor, Place and Community, 1926-2010,” traces the history of guanajuatense migration to the United States across (and beyond) the twentieth century and allows us to recalibrate our understanding of the sustained cycles of Mexican migration to the U.S. I argue that even though much has been written about the Mexican immigrant experience, we still know surprisingly little about how this history looks like from and in migrants’ communities of origin. Through a detailed examination of guanajuatense history, as well as the state’s archives, this project is one of the first to examine a century’s worth of migration from a single Mexican state. By centering the migrants’ communities of origin, I further our understanding of the stories of migrants who left, those who returned, those who traveled back and forth, and those left behind. I show that the lived experiences of migrants whose transborder histories extend far beyond the singular focus of their arrival in the U.S. deepens scholar’s and the broader public’s understandings of the ways in which the local and regional shaped the migrant journey.
I start my project in 1926 and highlight the impact of the Cristero War on guanajuatense society. By using the Cristero War to frame the story I provide an alternative chronology of Mexican migration that centers on the impact of the Cristero War, an event that has not drawn enough attention from historians of migration. Chapter one establishes the relationship between guanajuatenses, the Catholic Church, and the Mexican state and provides crucial context for understanding migrants’ decisions to leave. Chapter two traces and examines the migratory journey of guanajuatenses, who traveled to New York City in the 1920s, an unlikely destination at a time when the Mexican government tried to curtail migration. Chapter three focuses on guanajuatenses who did not receive labor contracts to work in the U.S. during the Bracero Program (1942-1964) and their lived experiences in the countryside as land reform failed to alleviate their economic hardships. Chapter four highlights the post-Bracero years in Guanajuato, new U.S. immigration policies, and ongoing issues with land reform. The final chapter shows how guanajuatenses bypassed established Mexican communities in the Southwest to arrive in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where they transformed the cultural, economic, and physical landscape of the city in ways that have escaped most scholars.
By tracing migration from Guanajuato across multiple generations and to two distinct sites in the U.S., my project re-envisions the intertwined histories of the U.S. and Mexico. It emphasizes how the migrant experience involves not just the people who migrated, but also those who returned, traveled back and forth, and stayed behind, and it presents a fine-grained regional history that recalibrates our understanding of the larger sustained cycles of Mexican migration, bringing to light migratory journeys that have received little attention.