Significance: The unique circumstances arising from the manner in which the vast majority of African Americans came to the Western Hemisphere and the question of whether African Americans should be considered an immigrant group in the strict sense of the term have contributed substantially to the overarching debate over the role of race in American society. Adding to whatever racial tensions might have arisen among African Americans and certain immigrant groups, resentment has been manifested in some quarters over perceived preferment of newcomers over the long-established African American population.
Harper’s Weekly illustration of the burning of New York City’s African American orphan asylum during the 1863 draft riots.
Over the general, long-term perspective on history, the relationship between African Americans and other immigrant groups to the United States has revolved around mutual suspicion and competition. This aura of suspicion and competition has been heavily overlain and exacerbated by the racial issues that had already been set in place during the early colonial era. During the early seventeenth century, the few Africans who were transported to colonial Virginia, Maryland, and New England colonies held the status of indentured servants. Chattel slavery similar to that already in place in Spanish and Portuguese America had yet to secure legal status in the North American colonies. However, events moved rapidly. Spurred by concerns about the long-term stability of the system of indentured servitude and questions of interracial marriage and sexual unions, the various English colonial governments put into place legalized systems of permanent, racially based chattel slavery.
Massachusetts was the first North American colony to institute slavery on the Latin American model. However, it was in Virginia in 1661 that the southern slavery model, which would persist to 1865, was set in place. By the end of the seventeenth century a legal and social code of separating the "black” and "white” races was firmly fixed. This system of racial separation endured, in its various permutations, into the late 1960’s. As it would prove, this was to be the general rule whether or not these "whites” were long-established, and mainly of English stock; or part of subsequent waves of immigration from Ireland, Scandinavia, or central, southern, or eastern Europe. When society was defined in racial terms, all white persons, regardless of their condition in society, could look upon themselves as "preferred” over all African Americans.
Communities of free African Americans existed from early colonial times. However, because of the growing incompatibility of the chattel slavery system outside the South, they flourished to a far greater degree in the northern colonies and states, particularly in the more vibrant economic climate of northern urban centers. As a distinctly identifiable and socially denigrated minority, African Americans invariably competed with newly arrived white immigrants for the lowest-paying jobs. With substantial white immigrant communities in nearly every major center by the 1860’s and increasing numbers of African American slaves escaping into the North on the Underground Railroad, relations between black and white communities grew more tense.
The U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) was resented by many white northerners as being waged to eliminate slavery. These people feared the prospect of a tidal wave of freed black slaves coming north from southern plantations to threaten the livelihood of poor whites. In 1863. the first military conscription in the United States brought this resentment to fever pitch, as lower-class whiles saw themselves as being compelled to participate in a struggle to free black slaves that would work against their own interests.
In New York City, this resentment sparked a series of events that culminated in a bloody draft riot. In July. 1863, a motley group white of protesters, among whom German and Irish immigrant laborers were prominent, rapidly degenerated into a mob and began a rampage of vandalism, arson, assault, and murder. Over a four-day period, they burned down an orphanage for black children and relentlessly brutalized African Americans, as many as two thousand of whom may have lied the city seeking safely.
The great New York City draft riot, notorious and horrific in its scope as it was. set the tune for subsequent northern and midwestern riots against African Americans. This ongoing violence was partially fueled by the anxieties and feelings of insecurity on the part of white immigrant groups. Anti-African American sentiment among while immigrants grew after the Civil War and during the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, during the first three decades of the new century, a movement that became known as the Great Migration saw the movement of many thousands of African Americans from the South to the North, where the) sought employment in urban centers. The same years also saw a massive influx of European immigrants into the United States.
As Jim Crow segregation systems became more rigid throughout the South and economic conditions there generally worsened, African Americans sought comparative freedom and better employment opportunities in northern cities, in which they formed ethnic enclaves. New York City\'s Harlem and Boston\'s Roxbury became two of the largest and best known of such communities. As black southerners were moving north, large numbers of eastern and southern Europeans were entering the United States, enlarging or creating their own ethnic enclaves. They were also coming into competition—at times violently—with African Americans for jobs. Interactions between Jews and African Americans were more ambiguous because of the existence of small but vocal groups within both communities harboring attitudes of racial exclusivity and religious anti-Semitism.
The decade of the 1960’s witnessed both the ebbing of the old immigration patterns and the crest of the Civil Rights movement. Although African Americans made major political and economic strides as a result of the successes of the Civil Rights movement, their very success engendered a new consciousness among members of other minority groups, particularly Asian Americans. Through the ensuing decades, the numbers of Asian Americans were considerably augmented by refugees from military conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. However, the great rise in Latin American immigration would prove to have the greatest impact on African Americans.
By the last decades of the twentieth century, American Latinos and Latin American immigrants—who are often collectively known as Hispanics—combined to overtake African Americans as the largest ethnic minority category in the United States. However, Latinos comprise people from many highly disparate nationalities, including Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and other groups with roots in Central America, South American, and the Caribbean. To complicate their relationship with African Americans even further, many Latin groups contain strong black elements. Consequently, there has been measurable outreach between African Americans and Latinos. Some African American community and legislative leaders have joined with Hispanic leaders to support liberalized immigration policies. Many educational institutions, especially historically black colleges, have actively recruited students from Hispanic communities.
Despite increasing African American cooperation with Hispanics, the major American political parties have tended to treat Hispanics and African Americans as separate and distinct voting blocs. For example, the Republican Party heavily courted Hispanic voters during the 2000 and 2004 national elections, and a modest outreach initiative by the George W. Bush administration to enlist greater African American support was stymied by the handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. What was perceived as a belated and inadequate response by the Bush administration was roundly criticized.
A question generating great differences of opinion has been what the impact of increasing Hispanic immigration—both legal and illegal—might have on already high unemployment rates within the African American community. Moreover, as African Americans have seen many Hispanics reach higher levels than most African Americans, black resentment has grown over the possibility that favoritism has been shown to the newer arrivals. However, there is no evidence that disparities between black and Hispanic incomes are any more than a perception.
Raymond Pierre Hylton
Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Penguin, 2003. Though this book is mainly about Chinese Americans, it often offers comments on African Americans that present interesting juxtapositions of the historical interplay of African Americans with a large nonwhite immigrant group.
Katz, Loren William, ed. Anti-Negro Riots in the North, 1863. New York: Arno Press, 1969. Compilation of historical documents that illuminate the reasons why immigrants rioted.
Learner, Michael, and Cornel West. Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. Two intellectuals, one Jewish, the other African American, discuss the long and paradoxical interplay between their marginalized communities.
Morgan, Edmund. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975. Useful for providing background information for and chronicling the advent of slavery and racism into the American social and legal fabric.
Morrison, Toni. What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Edited by Carolyn C. Denard. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008. Contains the Nobel Prize-winning author’s 1993 essay "On the Backs of Blacks,” which presents a stark analysis of the dilemma of race as relating to nonblack immigrants and their attitudes toward and interactions with African Americans.
Swain, Carol Miller, ed. Debating Immigration. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Collection of essays on immigration, the most significant of which concerning racial issues are those by Swain and Jonathan Tilove.
See also: Abolitionist movement; Affirmative action; African immigrants; American Colonization Society; Civil Rights movement; Ethiopian immigrants; Garvey, Marcus; Liberia; Slave trade; Stereotyping; Universal Negro Improvement Association; West Indian immigrants.Read the full story
Identification: Labor-activist organization
Date: Founded on May 1, 1992
Significance: The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was formed to address the workplace and community needs of a growing Asian and Pacific Islander population in the United States.
The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) convened for the first time on May Day, 1992, in Washington, D.C. That gathering drew five hundred Asian American and Pacific Islander labor and union activists from around the United States, including hotel and restaurant workers from Honolulu, longshore laborers from Seattle, garment factory workers from New York City, nurses from San Francisco, and supermarket workers from Los Angeles. The establishment of APALA was the culmination of several decades of Asian American labor activity.
After the mid-1970’s, Asian American labor organizers in California worked to strengthen unionization efforts by holding organizational meetings in the larger Asian American communities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Neighborhood-based organizations such as the Alliance of Asian Pacific Labor (AAPL) grew out of these efforts, forging stronger ties between labor and community and uniting Asian union staff members more closely with rank-and-file labor leaders. The creation of the AAPL was a successful local movement, but it soon became clear to AAPL administrators that to organize significant numbers of Asian American workers, a national organizing effort would be needed. Led by Art Takei, the AAPL solicited organizational aid from the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFLCIO).
AAPL vice president Kent Wong attended the 1989 national AFL-CIO convention in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the establishment of a national labor organization for Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland acknowledged Wong’s lobbying attempts by noting the local accomplishments of the AAPL in California and recognizing the organizing potential of the burgeoning Asian American workforce.
Two years after that AFL-CIO national convention, Kirkland appointed a national Asian Pacific American labor committee, comprising thirtyseven Asian American labor activists. The committee spent more than a year planning the founding meeting of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, finally releasing an invitation for Asian American and Pacific Islander unionists, labor activists, and workers to bridge the gap between the national labor movement and the Asian Pacific American community.
More than five hundred delegates attended the May, 1992, APALA convention to adopt a constitution and set up a governmental structure with a national headquarters inWashington, D.C., and local chapters throughout the United States. Organized in this way, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance could receive recognition and legitimacy from a national administration guided by the AFL-CIO, while still using its powerful techniques of community organizing at the local level.
During the convention, APALA organizers and delegates recognized and honored Asian Pacific American labor pioneers whose achievements they believed had melded national and local unionization efforts successfully or who had made significant contributions toward heightening the recognition of Asian American laborers. Honorees included Philip Villamin Vera Cruz of the United FarmWorkers union and Ah Quon McElrath of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
APALA conventioneers looked ahead to the organization’s role in continuing such activism and achievement. They drafted a commitment document calling for empowerment of all Asian American and Pacific Islander workers through unionization on a national level, as well as the provision of national support for local unionization efforts. APALA also promoted the formation of AFL-CIO legislation that would create jobs, ensure national health insurance, reform labor law, and channel financial resources toward education and job training for Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants. Toward that end, a revision of U.S. governmental policies toward immigration was called for. Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s commitment document supported immigration legislation that would promote family unification and provide improved access to health, education, and social services for immigrants. Finally, the document promoted national government action to prevent workplace discrimination against immigrant laborers and strongly supported vigorous prosecution for perpetrators of racially motivated crimes. APALA delegates passed several resolutions, which they forwarded to the AFL-CIO leadership. These documents decried the exploitative employment practices and civil rights violations alleged against several U.S. companies.
Convention delegates also participated in workshops that focused on facilitating multicultural harmony and solidarity, enhancing Asian American participation in unions, and advancing a national agenda to support broadly based civil rights legislation and improved immigration policies and procedures. Fromthese APALA workshops, two national campaigns were launched. The first involved working with the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute to recruit a new generation of Asian Pacific American organizers. The second campaign involved building a civil and immigration rights agenda for Asian Pacific American workers that was based on APALA’s commitment document and its convention resolutions.
Through the legislative statement of its goals and by lobbying for their societal implementation, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance was the first Asian American labor organization to achieve both national and local success. Although by the time of the 1992 Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance convention Asian Americans had been engaged in various forms of unionization activity for more than 150 years, the establishment of APALA within the ranks of the AFL-CIO provided it with more powerful organizational techniques. APALA was able to unite Asian Pacific workers, simultaneously integrating them into the larger American labor movement.
Cynthia Gwynne Yaudes
Aguilar-San Juan, Karin, ed. The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990’s. Boston: South End Press, 1994. Explores the connection between race, identity, and empowerment within the workplace and the community. Covers Euro- American, African American, and Asian American cultures.
Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Examines the Asian American labor experience from a gendered perspective, asking how the oppression of Asian American workers has structured gender relationships among them.
Friday, Chris. Organizing Asian American Labor. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994. Analyzes the positive impact of Asian Pacific immigration upon the formation of West Coast and Pacific Northwest industries between 1870 and 1942.
Rosier, Sharolyn. "Solidarity Starts Cycle for APALA.” AFL-CIO News 37, no. 10 (May 11, 1992): 11. Summarizes the AFL-CIO conference report on the establishment of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.
Wong, Kent, ed. Voices for Justice: Asian Pacific American Organizers and the New Labor Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. Collection of interviews with Asian Pacific American labor organizers and workers.
See also: Asian American literature; Asian immigrants; Chinese immigrants; Civil Rights movement; Issei; Japanese American Citizens League; Japanese immigrants; Pacific Islander immigrants.Read the full story
Date: 1942 to 1964
Location: Southwestern states
The Event: Cooperative international program through which the United States imported large numbers of Mexican workers—mainly farmworkers—on a temporary basis
Significance: Initiated because of farm labor shortages caused by American entry into World War II, the bracero program brought Mexican workers to replace American workers dislocated by the war. The program was intended to be temporary, but a growing dependence of American farms on Mexican labor kept it going for nearly two decades after the war ended.
Bracero workers registering at the Hidalgo, Texas, labor center in 1959. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Mexican immigration has historically fluctuated with changing social and economic conditions in both the United States and Mexico. During periods of social unrest, violent uprisings, or bad economic times in Mexico—such as the Mexican Revolution— immigration increased. When the U.S. economy has been in decline, Mexican immigration has decreased. Whatever the circumstances, however, Mexico has long been a source of cheap temporary labor for the United States. Indeed, until the establishment of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924, the border between the United States and Mexico was virtually unsupervised. Citizens of both countries crossed it as they pleased, and farmers in the American Southwest recruited seasonal workers from Mexico without government interference or supervision. After the United States entered World War I in 1917, Mexican workers played an important role in keeping American agriculture productive. The bracero program of the 1940’s was essentially a more formal and more tightly supervised international agreement to provide an adequate labor force during and after World War II. However, despite the contributions the program made to American agriculture and to the Mexican economy, it had many vocal critics in both countries.
Relations between the Mexico and the United States have never been intimate. Since the time of the 1846-1848 Mexican War, which ended with Mexico losing half its territory to the United States, relations have been strained. Added to this initial source of conflict was the large-scale "repatriation” of Mexicans and Mexican Americans during the Great Depression during the early 1930’s, when Mexican workers were indiscriminately rounded up from their workplaces and off the streets on which they lived and summarily sent back to Mexico. Meanwhile, the nationalization by Mexico of its petroleum industry, which resulted in the seizure of property that had been owned by American companies during the 1930’s, caused a festering legal dispute between the United States and Mexico.
In addition to these international events involving governments, there was the personal ongoing problem of racist antipathy against Mexicans that was prevalent throughout the American Southwest. A common saying that expressed Mexican feelings toward the United States at that time was "Poor Mexico, so far from God but so close to the United States.” Mexicans were generally considered "nonwhites,” forced to live in segregated barrios, and limited to employment in low-level jobs. Nevertheless, the prospect of finding better wages in the United States than those in Mexico has always drawn Mexicans north of the border. Consequently, even the state of Texas, which Mexicans have generally considered the most discriminatory of U.S. states, has been one of the most popular destinations for Mexican immigrants.
Before the United States entered World War II at the end of 1941, some Americans were concerned that if their country entered the war, there would again be a need, as there had been during World War I, for foreign workers. Farmers were especially concerned, and they pressured the federal government to make preparations to ensure an adequate farm labor supply in case of entry into the war. When the U.S. government approached the Mexican government about providing workers, its leaders were initially uninterested. This was partly due to the strained relations between the countries that had existed for some time. However, the situation changed after Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The United States quickly declared war on Japan and Germany, and Mexico, which until then had been neutral, followed suit by declaring war against the Axis. The Mexican government then saw providing workers for the United States as a tangible means of actively contributing to the Allied war effort.
Mexico still had certain reservations about entering a cooperative program with the United States. American racism against its people was a concern, as was the size of its own labor force at a time Mexico itself was attempting to modernize and industrialize. Another consideration was how the stability of families would be affected if only male workers were allowed to migrate to the United States under the new program. Apart from those concerns, the Mexican government wanted to address four major issues before making an agreement:
After its concerns were addressed in the negotiations with the U.S. government, the Mexican government considered the benefits that would accrue from a labor agreement. These included providing jobs for poor unemployed men, who might otherwise cause social unrest in Mexico; the acquisition of new skills and knowledge by workers that might later benefit Mexico when the workers returned home; and the infusion of U.S. dollars into the Mexican economy from the remittances workers sent to their families from the United States. For its part, the United States stood to gain workers who would replace American farmworkers who entered military service or left rural areas for better-paying jobs in cities as the war economy expanded.
The final agreement that established the bracero program was reached on August 4, 1942, the date on which the program officially went into effect. The agreement acknowledged the sovereignty of Mexico and stated that either government could terminate the program unilaterally by notifying the other party ninety days in advance. The program was to provide the United States with both agricultural and nonagricultural workers.
Although both Mexico and the United States would benefit from the program, the program had many opponents in both countries. American labor unions were among the most vocal opponents. Their leaders argued that there was no significant labor shortage in the United States and thus no justification for a large and continuing influx of immigrant workers. Unions and their members were also convinced that a large influx of migrant workers would depress American wages. Texas growers were also opposed to the final agreement because it promised to make a drastic change in the way they had been accustomed to hiring Mexican workers. Texas growers were among the most prominent supporters of importing Mexican farmworkers, but they did not like the government oversight and guarantees of the bracero program.
Another reason that many Americans were upset by the bracero agreement was that it gave guarantees to Mexican workers that domestic workers did not enjoy. In practice, however, many provisions of the program were not honored. Among the many violations and abuses reported were charges that American growers made Mexican workers pay for food, lodging, tools, and blankets they were supposed to receive without charge. Growers were also accused of requiring workers to perform tasks beyond those specified in their contracts. Under the terms of the original agreement, the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was the principal federal government agency responsible for the importation of foreign labor. Aware of the criticisms of the agreement, the FSA attempted to secure better living conditions and pass legislation favorable to American workers, such as those guaranteed to foreign workers.
Violations of the agreement also occurred through the actions of the U.S. government itself. On April 20, 1943, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 45. Its section 5 could be interpreted as allowing the commissioner of immigration and naturalization, with the approval of the U.S. attorney general, to import Mexican workers without the permission of the Mexican government. For example, in 1948 and 1954, the U.S. government would open the Mexican border to admit thousands of undocumented workers to satisfy the urgent demands of American growers who wanted more and cheaper labor. Meanwhile, the FSA was replaced by the more grower-friendly War Food Administration’s Office of Labor to oversee the bracero program. Another serious violation occurred when the wartime bracero workers returned home to find that the 10 percent of their wages that had been withheld had disappeared. It is unknown who was responsible for this violation.
Because of the history of Texas racism against Mexicans and the frequent abuses of workers practiced by Texas growers, the Mexican government refused to allow its citizens to work in Texas under the bracero program. This turn of events contributed to an increase in the number of undocumented workers who were allowed to cross the border into Texas, where they worked without government oversight or written contracts. In further violation of the agreement that stipulated that only single or unaccompanied men be employed, Texas growers employed men, women, and children. The wages they paid to these undocumented workers were also well below the levels specified by the bracero agreement. In 1947-1948, for example, average incomes for undocumented Mexican workers were less than ten dollars per week.
Both the U.S. and Mexican governments were aware of these violations. In an attempt to correct the problem, an agreement was reached whereby undocumented immigrant workers would be returned to Mexico, where they were to be given physical examinations, fingerprinted and photographed, and provided with identification cards. Each worker would then be given a written work agreement indicating where they would work and the conditions of their employment. They then were returned to the United States, where again they were to be given physical exams, fingerprinted, photographed, and given identification cards that would make them legal immigrants. Meanwhile, the governors of Texas attempted to improve working conditions in their state, and Mexico finally agreed to let workers go there in 1947.
The original U.S.-Mexican agreement was to end the bracero program in 1947; however, there were numerous extensions. Although most of the braceros worked in agriculture, some did not. For example, from 1942 to 1946, more than 100,000 Mexicans worked for American railroads.
While most of the program’s conditions and guarantees were the same for both agricultural and nonagricultural workers, some differences applied. For example, wages were higher for railroad workers, who were allowed to engage in collective bargaining and join unions, although unions were generally reluctant to accept them. The use of these nonagricultural braceros to work in the United States stopped after the war ended. However, the agricultural agreement was renewed on February 21, 1948. A significant change was made in this new agreement, whereby growers, rather than the U.S. government, would be the employers of record. This agreement was renewed again in 1951, during the Korean War.
President Harry S. Truman was sufficiently concerned with the bracero program to establish a commission to study problems connected with it in 1950. However, his commission’s recommendations for reforms in the program were ignored by Congress because the program as it was already constituted was popular with growers, and keeping Mexican farmlabor cheap helped keep food prices down for consumers. A decade later, President John F. Kennedy moved to terminate the program. Congress nevertheless extended the program an additional year, but it finally ended in 1964. Overall, the program lasted for twenty-two years and was extended or renewed eight times. Braceros were employed in approximately thirty states with most working in California, Texas and Arizona.
Philip E. Lampe
See also: El Paso incident; Farm and migrant workers; Guest-worker programs; Immigration Act of 1943; Latinos and immigrants; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Mexican deportations of 1931; Mexican immigrants; Operation Wetback; United FarmWorkers; World War II.Read the full story
Undeniably one of the leading figures in labor history, Gompers was already an ardent unionist prior to leaving London for New York City in 1863. The giant union he cofounded in 1881, the American Federation of Labor, was based on the pragmatic principles he had learned in England.Read the full story
The workers sent to Hawaii by the imingaisha began an era of organized Japanese economic emigration that reversed imperial Japan’s long-standing restrictions on population movement outside the country and marked the beginning of the Japanese community in the United States.Read the full story
As a landmark agreement between two sovereign nations designed to protect the human rights of Japanese immigrants relocating to the kingdom of Hawaii, the Immigration Convention reflected less a lofty humanitarian imperative than a pragmatic economic necessity. . .Read the full story
As late as the eighteenth century, the great bulk of people in Europe and North America were still supporting themselves and their families through their individual labor, mostly on farmlands.Read the full story
After the mid-nineteenth century, the development of machine-powered mass-manufacturing techniques powered the American economy.Read the full story
The International Ladies’ GarmentWorkers’ Union improved working conditions for garment makers, most of whom were immigrants. Under the leadership of David Dubinsky, himself an immigrant, the union became recognized as one of the most powerful labor unions in the United States.Read the full story
The iron and steel industry continued to progress after the U.S. Civil War, and an increasing need for labor corresponded to this growth.Read the full story
Second- and third-generation immigrants and their families built more comfortable lives in steel communities such as Johnstown and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio, from the 1940’s through the 1960’s.Read the full story
The AFL-CIO is the largest labor organization in the United States, comprising some 66 self-governing national and international labor unions with a total membership of 13 million workers (2002).Read the full story