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2. Labor Recruitment

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Chapter 2

Labor Recruitment



here was much work to do for the railroad,” former

traquero Jesús Ramírez recalled.1 Ramírez was born in Silao,

Guanajuato, in 1900, and left at the age of fifteen with his father to lay tracks in Kansas, working ten hours a day at ten cents an hour.

Because of the lack of work in Mexico, and the unsettled conditions resulting from the Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Mexican men and women decided to leave Mexico, at least temporarily in order to find work, peace, and to raise families in the United States.

Ramírez eventually remained with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe

Railroad in Emporia, Kansas, until he retired. When Ramírez arrived in 1916, annual Mexican immigration hovered around 18,000. By

1920 that figure had jumped to 54,000.2

This chapter examines the origins, growth, and diaspora of

Mexican railroad workers in the United States, especially on the

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. Within the constraints presented by the growth of the railroad in the Southwest, Mexican track workers and their families made important decisions about the conditions of their employment, where they worked, where they lived, and how they determined the quality of their daily lives within the confines of a burgeoning extractive economy.

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5. Boxcar Communities

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Chapter 5

Boxcar Communities


leofas Calleros, an old-timer and retired Santa Fe

depot official in El Paso, recalled the numerous Mexican track workers and section hands “whose groups of houses dot the desert from here to Los Angeles.”1 Indeed, as this chapter shows, traquero houses dotted not only the southwestern desert, but the entire line from El

Paso to Chicago. These dwellings constituted the beginnings of many

Mexican immigrant communities in the United States. Community and family formation is clearly tied to Mexican industrial employment on the railroad.

This chapter examines the origins, variety, and social conditions of

Mexican boxcar settlements and community development. It argues that while Mexicans could be found throughout most of the railroad occupational hierarchy, most worked in seasonal track work. As such they lived in a variety of company-owned housing. Boxcar communities probably represented the most common form of housing for

Mexican workers and their families. It also demonstrates the linkage between this process and the rise of scientific management regarding

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3. Work Experiences

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Jeffrey Marcos Garcilazo various duties that trackmen performed: unloading rails, ties and tamping the roadbed. And, of course, it reflects the physical exhaustion and hard-core vernacular that often accompanied heavy masculine work. Indeed, the most salient issue emerging from this corrido is the collective experience of Mexican trackmen in cooperation with one another in one of the largest employment sectors in the country. And as such, these workers derived overwhelmingly from the Mexican working-class. According to the late Ernesto Galarza,

“as a group [the Mexican immigrant worker] they represent the most authentic transplant of Mexican working-class culture in the

United States.”2

This chapter examines the work experiences of Mexican track workers (primarily men) based upon both the attitudes of railroad managers about Mexicans and Mexican attitudes about their backbreaking work on el traque. It describes what they did off the job, i.e., during lunch, evenings, weekends, holidays, as well as how they coped during down-times, unemployment. Specifically this chapter discusses the concept of common labor, working conditions, the effects of Americanization and Taylorism. Finally, it reconstructs the recreational and casual activities of Mexican track workers. In so doing, this chapter shows how traqueros shaped the world of track work within the context and limitations of industrial capitalism through their bonds and relationships with one another as well as with the institution of the railroad.

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6. Traquero Culture

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Chapter 6

Traquero Culture


his chapter examines cultural relationships among

Mexican railroad workers and their families both at home and on the job. Furthermore, it shows how a Mexican working-class culture evolved to become a distinct railroad-worker culture inextricably tied to work on the railroad, especially track work.1

While the experiences and behaviors of Mexican railroad workers and their families were not uniform, certain cultural aspects such as adaptability and resiliency characterized Mexican working-class culture. Indeed, cultural continuity and change were mutually inclusive processes. Hispanos and Mexican immigrants adjusted themselves to the new conditions of industrial life. Moreover, their contact with Euro-American institutions—especially schools—slowly transformed Hispanos and Mexicans into what I argue was Mexican railroad-worker culture or traquero culture. Traqueros themselves gave shape and meaning to their lives on a daily basis. With picks, shovels, frying pans, and diapers, traqueros (both men and women) built their lives. Along with the thousands of miles of track that they laid and repaired, they also constructed their own world and made it their own. Cultural change came about largely because the Hispano and Mexican immigrants did not control the formal institutions

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1. Railroads and the Socioeconomic Development of the Southwest

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Chapter 1

Railroads and the Socioeconomic

Development of the Southwest


n popular lore of the American West, only Chinese

and Irish workers built the railroads, laying track, digging tunnels, and building trestles and bridges. Indeed, this picture of track work in the West is true for the transcontinental railroad of 1869, but not for the decades to follow. During the late 1800s, virtually all types of native-born and immigrant labor worked on the tracks in this region at one time or another. However, by the turn of the century, Mexican immigrant labor far outnumbered all other groups of immigrant and or native-born labor on the tracks in the Southwest. In order to understand the twentieth-century experience of Jesús Ramírez, whose words opened this study, and of the hundreds of thousands of other people of Mexican background who found work on American railroads, we must first understand the prevailing social and economic conditions under which Mexicans lived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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