Arkansas Migrants in the 1960s-1980s

Though no longer picking cotton in the delta, Mexican workers continued to enter Arkansas during the 1960s and 1970s. Southwestern Arkansas became a way station for Mexican and Mexican migrant workers moving between Texas and the Midwest or the Atlantic Coast. In 1960 the Migrant Farm Labor Center opened on Highway 67 just west of Hope, later expanding under federal direction in response to growing national attention to the plight of migrant farmworkers.

The Migrant Farm Labor Center processed tens of thousands of migrants every year (nearly 50,000 in 1971), but few went on to work or stay in Arkansas. For those who did remain and work in Arkansas, the options were limited to seasonal agriculture, including limited cotton work in the delta, fruit in north Arkansas, and tomatoes in various parts of the state.

In fact, by the mid- to late 1970s, Arkansas tomato farmers were complaining of labor shortages and insisting that migrant labor from Mexico was the foundation of successful tomato farming. Federally certified migrant labor, which required luxuries such as housing and mediocre wages, was simply too expensive for Arkansas farmers.

A young attorney general named Bill Clinton helped tomato farmers in their search for a cheap and available labor force. This image Latinos as migrants would endure even as more and more Latinos began to make the state their home beginning in the 1980s.

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