Mexican Migration to the United States, 1882-1992: A Long Twentieth Century of Coyotaje (Working Paper #124)
David Spener, Trinity University
Abstract: Coyotaje is the Mexican cultural practice of hiring an intermediary, known as a coyote, to get around an inconvenient or burdensome government regulation. The term also refers to the brokerage of commodities. In both these senses, coyotaje has played a fundamental role in facilitating mass Mexican migration to the U.S.A. since passage of the Chinese exclusion and contract labor laws of the 1880s. In this paper I review the history of Mexican migration, foregrounding the evolution of the practice of coyotaje across five distinct migratory periods—el enganche (1882-1921); labor recruitment, clandestine migration, and mass deportations (1921-1942); the Bracero Program (1942-1964); the return to undocumented migration (1964-1986); and the legalization period (1986-1993). My review documents a remarkable degree of continuity in the practice of coyotaje across these periods, as well as in the tactics used by government authorities to combat it. In the conclusion, I argue that although coyotaje begins as a way for U.S. employers to gain extra-legal access to Mexican workers, over time it evolves into an essential and strikingly successful strategy employed by Mexican workers to gain access to better wages in the U.S. labor market.