Minnesota The First Wave of Latino Migration
The first wave of Latinos began to arrive in Minnesota in the late 1800s. The majority of them were Mexican Americans recruited from South Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska to work in the sugar beet fields of the American Crystal Sugar Company. Latino workers received piece rate pay, and the work was temporary and seasonal. As such, only a minority of this first wave of Latinos remained in Minnesota permanently. The fact that the sugar beet fields were located in homogenous rural areas with no history of non-European migration further discouraged Latino settlement. Yet, economic forces would soon alter this demographic trend.
By 1928 more than 7,000 Mexican migrants were working in the fields of the Minnesota Red River Valley, making the sugar industry the first in Minnesota in which Latinos, specifically Mexicans, dominated. In order to encourage workers to stay in Minnesota year-round, Crystal Sugar began to offer higher wages. This strategy was successful. Workers soon thereafter began to put down roots in Minnesota, migrating within Minnesota in the off-season from rural areas such as the Red River Valley to the Twin Cities. At the same time, Crystal Sugar was able to boost its profits, as it no longer had to transport workers from Mexico and the Southwest to Minnesota and back again.
Already poor and disenfranchised, Latinos in Minnesota were hit hard by the Great Depression. Yet, few sought public assistance, and little assistance was available for those who did seek it. A strong work ethic, coupled with general condemnation for anything deemed a free ride, motivated Latinos to struggle to make it on their own, despite the incredible hardships they encountered.1 Pride in providing for one’s family gave many Latinos the strength to endure difficult and often dangerous working conditions, low wages, and the stigma of being a migrant in an often unfriendly place. Despite the challenges resulting from the Great Depression, the Mexican population in Minnesota grew rapidly during this time. In the 1930s a surplus of workers in the sugar beet industry prompted more Latinos to move to the Twin Cities in search of other employment.
On August 4, 1942, the U.S. government instituted the Bracero program. This guest worker program recruited skilled workers from Mexico to come to the
United States on temporary visas to labor in the fields, factories, and on the railroads, essentially filling the void created by the thousands of workers who left their jobs to fight in World War II. The program continued until 1964, when the immigration system was overhauled.
The contribution of braceros to the economies of the United States and Minnesota cannot be understated. Between 1943 and 1947 nearly 8,000 braceros worked in Minnesota agriculture and industry. The abuse of Braceros, especially those who worked in agriculture, is well documented. For example, many field workers were forced to work with a short-handled hoe, literally making the work backbreaking.
During this time many Tejanos also came to work in Minnesota, seeking to escape discrimination and the surplus of Latino workers in Texas. Not bound by migration restrictions, Tejanos were able to remain in Minnesota year-round, and many settled permanently. By 1951, Tejanos outnumbered Mexican braceros by about four to one.