Legacies of Migrant Farm Workers

By the late 1950s, many stateside Puerto Rican communities emerged or grew as a result of migrant farmworkers that had settled in the nearby cities of farming regions. Puerto Rican officials were constantly forced to explain that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens, and therefore, free to travel and live in stateside communities. The end of the Mexican Bracero Program in 1964 increased the use of Puerto Rican contract workers in U.S. agriculture. From the early 1970s through the early 1980s, legal battles between labor activists, workers, the government of Puerto Rico, and growers shaped new regulations for the use or rejection of Puerto Ricans in U.S. farm labor. The refusal to hire Puerto Rican workers increased when intense labor organizing among tobacco workers was happening. This sentiment came to a head when apple growers refused to employ Puerto Ricans, leading to legal challenges against both growers and the Puerto Rican Farm Labor Program (FLP). For the most part, the courts sided with growers, limiting the applicability of the Wagner-Peyser Act, which forced farmers to hire Puerto Ricans before contracting guestworkers. In Puerto Rico, the Roselló González administration (1993-2000) ended the FLP in 1993, a year before the United States became part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The government of Puerto Rico perceived any assistance to Puerto Ricans in the United States as an obstacle to statehood and neoliberalism. Thereafter, large growers and associations in the Northeast began to replace Puerto Ricans with Mexicans and West Indians. Colonial neoliberalism had finally succeeded in eliminating the FLP.