La Pena Negra: Mexican Women, Gender, and Labor During the Bracero Program, 1942-1964

Mayra Lizette Avila, University of Texas at El Paso


Most research on México and the Bracero Program has centered on the experiences of men. The scholarship details their decision to leave México, their experiences crossing the border and working in the fields, and their return migration home. “La Pena Negra: Woman, Gender, and Labor, During the Bracero Program, 1942-1964” adds to Bracero scholarship by looking at how the Mexican consulate dealt with Bracero treatment and death. However, the program did not only impact male laborers, but their spouses and family who they left behind in México. Women and families’ survival depended on the female ability to adapt and negotiate the circumstances of uncertainty caused by the male absence. Focusing on the female experience in México provides a unique view of the changes women underwent in the social, political, and private sphere of México and the borderlands during the mid-twentieth century. “La Pena Negra” historicizes the negotiation of empowerment and disempowerment of women in Mexican society during the Bracero Program. Using archival documents and oral histories, this dissertation links and examines the roots and routes of discourses, cultural practices, and political strategies shaping the female experience in México while the male members of their families worked in the United States between 1942 and 1964. This dissertation brings forth the personal, emotional, and social changes women underwent for survival and addresses themes such as family provider, family networks, abandonment, and divorce. This study adds to the literature on women and Mexican history during twentieth century México and the Bracero Program and is unique as it provides an intimately transnational gendered perspective to what has typically been addressed from the lenses of migration, economics, and geo-politics. Most importantly, these personal experiences add to an understanding of the effects a transnational immigrant labor program had on women.

Subject Area

Latin American history|Womens studies|Labor relations

Recommended Citation

Avila, Mayra Lizette, "La Pena Negra: Mexican Women, Gender, and Labor During the Bracero Program, 1942-1964" (2018). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10746161.