Traqueros, part 2: Chain Migration and Boxcar Communities
A profound result of the vast employment of traqueros in the transportation industry was the railroads' corporate strategy to establish means for "chain migration." Chain migration refers to the process of immigrants from a particular region or town following the path of prior immigrants (from their same region or town) to the same destination.
As the agricultural, petroleum, and cattle ranching industries of the Southwest expanded to a vast scale in the early 20th century, the demand for traquero labor grew as well. To meet this demand, companies like the Santa Fe Railroad incentivized traqueros to bring along their families, including wives and children, to live on sites by the rail yards rent-free.
A key tactic in this strategy was the practice of housing traqueros in converted boxcars. These converted boxcars would be grouped together into settlements, which tended to be of two types: one was a species of "mobile villages" that moved along the train tracks, whereas the other type was comprised by taking boxcar quarters off the rails and grouping them together on the outskirts of rail yards in areas usually saved for section gangs. Historian Al Camarillo, in his book Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrios in Santa Barbara and Southern California, 1848-1930 (1979) has termed the process of establishing boxcar settlements as "barrioization," because these family-centered communities demonstrated the sustainability of Mexican American communities, as well as familiarized Mexican immigrants with different parts of the U.S. that would become significant Mexican immigrant destinations.
Mexican boxcar communities existed all over the country and in major cities including Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
On April 18th, 2016, Dr. Antonio Delgado, a former Smithsonian Institution Visiting Scholar (1998), presented his research on Mexican boxcar communities in Chicago at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum. Illinois Humanities sponsored the event, publishing the Daily Herald's notice of the program on the Illinois Humanities' news blog. The online story includes a trailer for local station WTVP's documentary, Boxcar People, for which the now adult children of traqueros were interviewed.
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