From Fourth International, Vol.14 No.3, May-June 1953, p.78.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
I would like to say that the article, Peonage In The Southwest, by Allen Winters is a very good one which delves into the fundamentals of this complex social problem facing the American working class.
Undoubtedly, the next of the series will deal with the problems of the large minority in the Southwest, the Mexican-Americans, and its relations to the “Bracero” problem.
It is in this connection that ons of the terms, “wetback,” becomes objectionable.
The term “wetback” originated out of the antagonism between the Mexican-Americans and the “Braceros” and is permeated with hostility. When the “Bracero” became a threat and actually further increased the exploitation of this minority, even the term “Bracero” was tinged with hostility, though this term did not prevail in the majority of the Mexican-American population. However when the influx of the “illegals” began and became a real problem, the term “mojado” (wet) became a prevalent way in which the differentiation between themselves and the “illegals” took place. The Mexican-Americans wanted to get out from, under the discrimination directed at them and found in the “mojado” a convenient scapegoat.
Undoubtedly the reporters of the American press picked out this word “mojado,” and added to it, thus giving us the word “wetback.” The press employs it extensively, much more than is justified for the sake of reporting. They will probably explain, as some people have explained to me, that this word properly describes the “illegals” since in two words it tells us that these people have waded the Rio Grande river, and thus tells us that they are illegals.
This is partly true, but like most half truths, it’s a lie. The “illegals” also cross the border through the deserts of Arizona and California where there is no river but a wire dividing line. What term are we to use in this case? “Alambristas” (people skilled in the art of handling wire) which is also a chauvinistic term originating where there is no river to cross. Now, the nub of the question is not that these people may or may not have “wet-backs,” but that they have crossed the border illegally. The proper term would, therefore, be ILLEGALS, ILLEGAL ENTRANTS, or MEXICAN NATIONALS. Any. other word, no matter how quaint or picturesque, is inadequate and chauvinistic besides.
The American press is doing a great harm in employing this term “wetback” indiscriminately. It is popularizing a chauvinistic term which is picked up by many people and made an object of jokes. A worker goes over to a Mexican-American and says, “Hey, I heard that you were a ‘wetback.’ Are you a ‘Wetback?’” The popularization of chauvinism is no joking matter, and though the intent of the author of the article in the FI may have not been the same, nevertheless, the use of terms indigenous to this complex problem without any explanation of their total meaning is a touchy situation.
Last updated on: 29 March 2009