For the final stage of my project, I decided to move past poetry analysis and instead focused on researching the recorded effects of the Bracero program on the temporary workers, their children, and society at large. There were a few resources I found quite invaluable, the most notable of those being the Bracero Archive. The Bracero Archive is the largest compilation of materials about the 1942 guest-worker initiative and has everything from interviews with workers, posts from the workers’ children, and newspaper articles that discuss the recent legislation in regards to guest-worker compensation. Fortunately, I found this research to be much more compelling than the poetry I had been focusing on.
I chose to research the impacts of guest worker programs through poetry because it was a perfect combination of topics from my Spanish Literary Criticism class and sociology-based freshman seminar. My seminar introduced me to the exploitation of these migratory laborers, a subject I found interesting especially because it had been ignored in all prior history classes I had ever taken. While brainstorming ideas for my research, I realized that my literature class had already introduced me to the concept through Tino Villanueva’s poetry. His experiences as the son of migrant workers provided me with the perfect basis for this project, so I was good to go!
Before diving into the poetry on which I’m basing my research, I decided to look into an important aspect of the project – the poet himself. Tino Villanueva was born on December 11, 1941 in San Marcos, Texas. His parents had immigrated from Mexico to the United States and were working on various farms as migrant laborers. Due to the family’s migratory lifestyle, it was difficult for Villanueva to consistently attend school, which contributed to the difficulty he faced when attempting to learn English. He graduated from high school in 1960 and had a factory job until 1963, when he was drafted into the Army. His deployment in Panama exposed him to various Hispanic poets and opened his eyes to a whole new area of interest. After returning to the United States, he began his studies at various universities, including Texas State University, the State University of New York, and Boston University (where he received his doctorate). Villanueva began publishing his poetry in the 1970s and currently has written six collections of poetry.
In the early 1940s, the United States entered into an agreement with the Mexican government to create a temporary contract labor initiative. The Bracero Program was meant to address the labor shortage caused by World War II, but soon managed to bring its own specific set of problems. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers flooded towards the border and camped out at migratory stations where they waited before crossing into California. Laborers stayed at these stations from anywhere between a few days to months, often without money to buy food or a place to sleep. Even once a job in the US was found, conditions there were far less than ideal as bracero workers were often exploited by their employers.