OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Mireya Loza

Portrait of Mireya Loza

Mireya Loza an Assistant Professor in Food Studies at New York University. Her areas of research include Latino history, social movements, migration, food studies and labor history. Her book, Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom (2016), examines the Bracero Program and how guest workers negotiated the intricacies of indigeneity, intimacy, and transnational organizing. Loza worked with the NMAH on the Bracero History Project, which produced the Bracero History Archive and the traveling exhibition, "Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942–1964." Her research has been funded by the Ford Foundation, the Mexico-North Research Network, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This talk interrogates the private lives of migrant men who participated in the Bracero Program (1942–1964), a binational agreement between the United States and Mexico that allowed hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers to enter this country on temporary work permits. While this program and the issue of temporary workers has long been politicized on both sides of the border, Dr. Loza argues that the prevailing romanticized image of braceros as a family-oriented, productive, legal workforce has obscured the real, diverse experiences of the workers themselves. Focusing on underexplored aspects of workers’ lives--such as their transnational union-organizing efforts, the sexual economies of both hetero and queer workers, and the ethno-racial boundaries among Mexican indigenous braceros—this talk reveals how these men defied perceived political, sexual, and racial norms.
This talk examines the experiences of several indigenous communities in the Bracero Program, specifically the Mixtec, Zapotec, Purépecha, and Mayan communities. Although many Americans came to view braceros as one homogenous group, the regional, racial and ethnic differences among braceros shaped their social relations. Growers and contractors astutely noted racial difference and created discourses that naturalized the relationship of particular indigenous groups to specific crops. These laborer-to-crop linkages had profound implications for recruitment into the program. Recognizing the shifting meanings of race that indigenous migrants experienced, I explore mid-twentieth century racial constructs and the subsequent role of Mexican indigenous communities in food production in the US. In doing so, I also capture the myriad ways these defiant workers responded to the intense discrimination and exploitation of an unjust system that still persists today.
From 2005-2009 the National Museum of American History embarked on one of its most ambitious collecting project focused on documenting experiences around the Bracero Program, the largest US guest worker program. This talk focuses on the dilemmas of documenting memory for the Bracero History Archive and the reception of the National Museum of American History’s exhibit, “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-64.” The present day political and social context in which these oral histories were collected left indelible marks on how the program is remembered. The retelling of bracero history also reveals contemporary concerns with the role that Mexican agricultural workers play in American society and sheds light on the national dilemma of immigration reform.