Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




This dissertation examines the creation and evolution of the agricultural economy and labor relations of South Texas from the late Nineteenth Century to the Nineteen Sixties. The changing demographic reality of Mexico, with massive population shifts northward during the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, caused massive emigration to the United States once the violence of the Mexican Revolution erupted after 1910. Hundreds of thousands fled north of the border, most of them traveling to South Texas. This migration wave out of Mexico met another group of migrants traveling from the Southeast and Midwest who sought to purchase farm land in South Texas as the region underwent a transition from ranching to agriculture.;A new regime of labor and racial relations emerged from these simultaneous migrations, built on a system of social and residential segregation, continued migration from Mexico, and seasonal immobilization of workers. While this system never stopped the mobility of the Mexican and Mexican American populations of South Texas, it did allow the region to continue paying the lowest wages in the nation even as production and profits soared. Agricultural interests in the rest of the country were not long in taking notice, and began recruiting workers from South Texas by the thousands during the Nineteen Twenties after immigration from Europe had slowed down following the passage of restrictive immigration legislation in 1917, 1921, and 1924.;The South Texas model of labor relations then went national during the era of the Bracero Program from 1942-1964. Originally meant to be an emergency contract labor program between the United and Mexico during World War II, it morphed into a method by which growers could replicate the labor market conditions of South Texas, with basic rights of choice, mobility, and citizenship disregarded in favor of cheap and easily exploitable foreign labor.;Throughout the Twentieth Century, in other words, South Texas has not been a peripheral, backward region with little importance for the rest of the nation. Instead, the rest of the nation has followed in the footsteps of South Texas.



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