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.
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.