Mexican Workers Supporting Agricultural America – Then and Now –

It has been some time since the U.S. economy was driven by the automotive industry. It is now said to be supported by the four IT giants, Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, commonly known as GAFA. The U.S. is also one of the world’s largest agricultural nations and produces the majority of the food eaten by its population of more than 300 million people. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of corn and soybeans, with a global share of around 35%, and approximately 40% of all corn and soy exported worldwide is grown on U.S. soil. The driving force behind America’s agricultural success is seasonal workers from Mexico. The Southwestern United States boasts a large agricultural industry and it shares a border with Mexico. The land in the Southwest was once arid*1, as in the photo, but the area was a part of Mexico until the mid 1800’s, and it was developed by Mexican people. Even after the Southwest became part of the U.S., workers from Mexico travelled across the border to work during busy seasons.
At the start of World War II, the U.S. employed its citizens in weapons factories and sent them to fight in Europe and the Pacific. This created a shortage of agricultural workers, and Mexican workers helped to fill the gap.

Arid land in Mexico near the U.S. border

The planting and harvesting seasons are the busiest times of year in agriculture, and the U.S. needed workers who could work during the peak seasons, but spend the rest of the time in their home country. Seasonal workers from Mexico, located just across the border, were the solution to this problem. In addition, they were able to work for less money due to the economic disparity*2 between the two countries. To this day, American agriculture is supported by Mexican seasonal workers who work for low wages, and help regulate the size of the agricultural workforce in the U.S. Needless to say, much of the produce exported from the U.S. is picked by these workers.
This history between Mexico and the U.S. should be taken into consideration when talking about Mexican immigrants. The majority of agricultural products imported into Japan are produced in the U.S., and thus the current immigration issue also affects Japan. The relationship with Mexico is particularly important to Japan. After the Meiji government made it national policy to abolish all unequal treaties made with the Western powers, the treaty Japan and Mexico signed in 1888 was the first equal treaty Japan had ever made with a foreign government.
Professor Tatsushi Nakano of Asia University researches the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, and his research is also important when talking about Japan today. Nakano has studied the issues surrounding Mexican seasonal workers and immigrants in the U.S. and believes that “workforces should not be treated as objects; they should be treated as people.” One can see how having such a mindset could also be beneficial when discussing the immigration issues Japan is currently facing.

 *1 Arid means to be extremely dry and unable to be used as farmland.
*2 Disparity is a difference between two things. In this case, it is used to show the difference in income between people in the U.S. and people in Mexico.



南北アメリカ大陸の結節点の地域研究として、メキシコとアメリカの関係を研究している。 現在、その集大成として、ネイティブアメリカンの時代も視野に入れた、メキシコとアメ リカ合衆国の国境史をまとめようとしている。著書に『メキシコの悲哀』(松籟社, 2010 年) など。担当している専門科目「体験で学ぶ地球環境論」では、アルピニストで同大学の卒 業生でもある野口健特別招聘教授と共に、富士山の清掃活動なども行っている。


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