Through NVI's Spotlight Series, I spoke with Maria Quintana, a U.S. and Latin American historian who specializes in race and empire, civil rights and labor history, immigration history, and social movements. Maria is an Assistant Professor at Sacramento State University. She has written the book Contracting Freedom: Race, Empire, and U.S. Labor Importation Programs, 1942-1964. Her research has received numerous awards, including the Charlotte W. Newcombe Fellowship from the Institute for Citizens & Scholars. She is also part of the World House Global Network.
During my interview with Maria, she showed how our understanding of the labor civil rights movement is connected deeply with U.S. imperialism through guestworker programs which importer of migrant labor from Mexico, Jamaica, Bahamas, Honduras, Barbados, and Puerto Rico. While the US government positively portrayed guestworker programs as emphasizing a fair labor contract and equal rights, workers from these programs became leaders for freedom and human rights throughout the civil rights movement. Guestworker programs ignored race and class in the United States where "freedom" is not necessarily a "right." The sacrifices of these workers, demonstrated in courageous and relentless nonviolent action in the civil and labor rights movement, gave a new meaning to freedom and expanded my understanding of new forms of racial oppression and empire.
In a reality where workers, particularly immigrant and marginalized workers, continue to advocate for a livable wage, fair treatment, and protection of their rights, my conversation with Maria gave me a greater understanding of the evolution rather than elimination of the oppression of workers. I hope it does the same for you.
Learn more about what Maria is a part of:
Contracting Freedom: Race, Empire, and U.S. Guestworker Programs (Use the discount code PP20 for 20% off your order from Penn Press!)
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