Now and Then: Perceptions of the Mexican Worker

In this lesson, students will examine another article from La Prensa to explore how the workers were received upon their arrival in Bethlehem. This article investigates rumors of anti-Mexican sentiment in Bethlehem as well as labor disputes between the newly arriving laborers and the steelworkers.

Students use information from the primary sources in Activity One to assess the accuracy of the information provided in the La Prensa article. Additionally, students assess whether the stories of worker tension were fabricated and explore the reasons that exaggerated reports may have emerged. Finally, students will be asked to connect the experiences of Mexican immigrants in the 1920's to those of immigrants today. 

Essential Questions

How can the story of another American, past or present, influence your life?
Why is time and space important to the study of history?

Objectives

Students will:

  • Develop critical thinking skills by reading and interpreting primary source material.
  • Evaluate interethnic labor relations in Bethlehem by understanding the point-of-views of the non-Mexican steelworker.
  • Assess different perceptions of the Mexican laborer throughout history by comparing Mexican immigration in the early 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Relate issues of early 20th century Mexican immigration to current debates and discussions on Mexican immigration by identifying different perceptions today towards Mexican workers.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1. Have students work in pairs to read the “Mexicans Awaken the Jealousy of Pennsylvania Workers” article from La Prensa. Students should pay particular attention to the language and tone of the news excerpts included in the La Prensa article. How Mexican workers were reportedly received in Bethlehem? What were some attitudes and perceptions of these workers?
2. Create a second silhouette to represent the perception of the Mexican steelworker. Have students cite evidence from the article regarding how these workers were perceived by other laborers and residents of Bethlehem. Discuss issues such as the strikebreaking, threat to American jobs and wages, cultural issues of language, clothing, and ethnicity.
3. Discuss the validity of the rumors of violence and discontent among the workers. Why might exaggerated stories such as these have emerged?  Draw upon the "La Prensa and the Mexican Workers of Bethlehem Steel" reading and Taylor readings for additional background information regarding labor relations and the perceptions of Mexicans as workers.
4. Where appropriate, have students compare the information presented in the primary source materials from Activity One to the perceptions and arguments highlighted in the La Prensa article.
5. Students should research current Mexican immigration to connect some of the issues raised in this activity to current debates to answer the question: How do the experiences of the 1920s Mexican steelworker compare to contemporary Mexican immigration? Have students create another silhouette of the 21st century Mexican immigrant laborer in the United States and. Compare the themes, profiles, debates, and discussions from 1923 and now. 

Vocabulary

Agribusiness: A large-scale farming enterprise.
Ballad: A narrative form relating a dramatic event that can be sung or recited. Folk or traditional ballads are ballads that originally were passed down orally from one singer to another generation after generation. This method of dissemination meant that both the lyrics and tune might change over time and result in many different versions of one song.
Birds of passage: Migrants who move back and forth from one place to another following seasonal work patterns.
Bracero: From the Spanish word “brazo” which means “arm.” Bracero refers to an unskilled Mexican laborer.
Contract labor: A signed agreement between an employer and a group of wage earners that details certain terms and conditions of employment. 
Corrido:  A Mexican narrative song or ballad based on oral tradition. Spanning more than two centuries, the corrido highlights important social, political and cultural issues that impacted and continue to impact Mexican and Mexican American communities. Themes include war, romance, social justice, heroism, and migration. Corridos evolve to reflect contemporary issues.
Itinerant work: Working in one place for a comparatively short time and then moving on to work in another place, usually as a physical or outdoor laborer.
Labor agent:  A recruiter who secured jobs for new immigrants. Agents sometimes paid the fare for passage and helped find food and housing for workers. Some businesses paid labor agents to recruit their workers. In some cases, the workers paid a fee to the labor agent that was extracted from workers’ wages.
Solos: Spanish for “single men.”