Skip to Content

Traqueros, part 1: The Mexican American Railroad Workers

0 Favorites 0 Copies
Social Studies +1 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old), Post-Secondary, Adults

Traqueros ('track workers') were Mexican and Mexican American laborers who were instrumental in the building and expansion of the railroad throughout the U.S., from the mid- to late-19th century until the early- to mid-20th century. 

Following the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), Chinese immigrant labor - central to the construction of the transcontinental railroad (1869) - was extremely curtailed, and Mexican workers were relied upon to fill the labor void. By 1900, U.S. railroads employed over 1 million people, which increased to almost 1.8 million by 1925. According to the late historian Jeffrey Marcos Garcilazo, in his book Traqueros: Mexican Railroad Workers In The United States, 1870-1930 (2012): "Between 1880 and 1930, Mexican track workers constituted almost two-thirds of the track labor forces in the Southwest, Central Plains, and Midwest" (p.34). 

The U.S. federal government's Immigration Act (1917), while curtailing European immigration, exempted Mexican immigrants coming to work in the U.S. from its restrictions, largely because of the abundant reliance on Mexican labor in the railroad industry. By even the 1890s, the U.S. railroad labor force was so largely Mexican that the Southern Pacific Railroad adopted the practice of employing Mexican cooks in their workers' camps to satisfy the appetites of their immigrant laborers. 

The legacy of traqueros is largely forgotten in U.S. history books about labor and the building of our country, but recent and ongoing scholarship is revealing the vital role of traqueros in the strengthening of the U.S. economy, transportation system, and large-scale industry since the Civil War.

#EthnicStudies #MexicanAmericans #Traqueros #Railroads #Latinos #Chicanos


"Streamliners Link the West": Poster for the Santa Fe Railroad

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Santa Fe Railroad ticket office

Archives of American Art

Braceros on Railroad Tracks

National Museum of American History