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A Look into the Mexican-American Struggle for Equal Rights

During the economic boom of the Second World War, Mexican laborers experienced unparalleled occupational gain in the United States. However, Emilio Zamora, associate professor of history, points out that discrimination impeded their movement from low-wage, low-skill agricultural jobs to better-paying jobs in rapidly expanding industries.

In “Claiming Rights and Righting Wrongs in Texas: Mexican Workers and Job Politics during World War II” (Texas A&M University Press, 2009), Zamora traces the wartime experiences of Mexican workers in America and their struggle for civil and labor rights.

Through extensive use of Spanish-language archives in Mexico and the United States, Zamora reveals that despite the rising numbers of Mexican laborers who advanced from second to middle class ranks during World War II, significant numbers were denied job opportunities due to discrimination.

Offering compelling evidence on how unjust employment practices restrained the immigrant workers’ upward mobility, Zamora reveals how race-conscious Anglo workers, including members of industrial unions, maintained racial order. He also discloses how government agencies, such as the United States Employment Service, collaborated with segregationists to maintain an uneven rate of advancement between Mexican and Anglo workers.

Despite the problem of unequal access to wartime jobs, Zamora notes that Mexicans made unprecedented improvements in their lives during this time of transition. However, he argues Anglos and African Americans benefited more from wartime opportunities and recovered faster from the Great Depression.

Zamora is author of the award-winning “The World of the Mexican Worker in Texas.” He is also editor of “Mexican Americans in Texas History; Selected Essays,” and “Beyond the Latino World War II Hero: The Social and Political Legacy of a Generation.”

For more background on Zamora’s penetrating research in Mexican-American and U.S. labor history, read his interview in the March 1 edition of the Austin American-Statesman.