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Defiant Braceros

How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom

By Mireya Loza

254 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 14 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2976-6
    Published: September 2016
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2975-9
    Published: September 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2977-3
    Published: September 2016

David J. Weber Series in the New Borderlands History

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Awards & distinctions

2016 Theodore Saloutos Book Award, Immigration and Ethnic History Society

2017 Smithsonian Secretary's Research Prize, Smithsonian Institution

In this book, Mireya Loza sheds new light on 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, 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--Loza reveals how these men defied perceived political, sexual, and racial norms.

Basing her work on an archive of more than 800 oral histories from the United States and Mexico, Loza is the first scholar to carefully differentiate between the experiences of mestizo guest workers and the many Mixtec, Zapotec, Purhepecha, and Mayan laborers. In doing so, she captures the myriad ways these defiant workers responded to the intense discrimination and exploitation of an unjust system that still persists today.

Published with support provided by the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas

About the Author

Mireya Loza is a curator in the Division of Political History at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
For more information about Mireya Loza, visit the Author Page.


“This book offers an excellent example of a qualitative research project for methods courses. Highly recommended.”--Choice

“An essential purchase for any serious collection on labor, social, and migration history, and should be included within any course or curriculum related to gender studies, human rights, oral testimonies, public history, or Latino/a studies.”--American Historical Review

“An exceptional addition to the historical literature on braceros. . . . A highly accessible and necessary work for anyone wanting to understand the long, complicated history of Mexican laborers in the United States.”--Arkansas Historical Quarterly

“Provides valuable insight into Mexican race relations and their impact on American agricultural labor practices.”--North Carolina Historical Review

“Commands the attention of scholars interested in migrant labor, Latinx and indigenous identity formations, borderlands, and historical memory.”--Western Historical Quarterly

“Deploys deep historical and ethnographic detail to show how braceros defied their social invisibility."--Reviews in American History