Mexican American Labor in the U.S.

Christine Sleeter and Carl Grant wrote this lesson to encourage students to explore policies and attitudes about Mexican and Mexican American laborers in the U.S. and develop informed personal perspectives of the United States-Mexico border and undocumented Mexican immigrants.
Grade Level

  • Students will describe how the United States historically shifts policies toward Mexican and Mexican American laborers to acquire cheap, temporary labor.
  • Students will appreciate different perspectives on the history of Mexican labor in the United States, particularly the perspectives of Mexican and Mexican American laborers.
  • Students will locate information, particularly information about subordinated groups.
  • Students will develop a personal perspective of the United States-Mexico border and undocumented Mexican immigrants.

Time: One Week


Suggested Procedures

  1. Ask students to describe what they know, or have heard, about the issue of undocumented Mexican workers in the U.S. Based on what they know, ask for their opinions about whether Mexican immigration should be restricted and border controls tightened. Point out to students that the perspectives the public hears are those of European Americans, and white business owners in particular; other groups' perspectives may be downplayed, distorted or omitted altogether.

    Divide students into six teams. Have each team research the history of immigration from the following groups' perspectives (make sure students distinguish between Mexicans (citizens of Mexico) and Mexican Americans (citizens of the United States):

    • Mexican business owners
    • Mexican Americans living at or below the poverty line
    • European American business owners
    • U.S. government
    • Mexican American workers
    • European working-class Americans
    • Mexican people searching for work
  2. Explain to students that each team should find answers to the following questions for each group perspective:
    • What were your group's economic needs?
    • How did your group view each of the other groups?
    • What was your group doing during the time periods 1845-1850; 1850-1900; 1900-1924; 1924-1930; 1930-1947; 1947-1965; 1965-1980; and 1980-present? Discuss sources of information; you may wish to locate sources yourself and make them available to students.
  3. Assist students as needed while they complete their research.
  4. Construct a large wall graph from butcher paper on which the time periods in item 2 appear across the top at levels of 2 to 3 feet. On the left-hand side of the graph, each of the six groups should be listed. With the whole class, and starting with the first time period (1845-1950), each group should report on and chart the history of this issue. Have one student (or yourself) write key points and events on the chart for each time period. Encourage students to discover and explain the relationships among the groups' needs and desires and how they responded to each other and to historical events.
  5. Have the class debate the following question: Should the United States further restrict immigration of Mexican workers into the country? Students should debate the question first from the perspective of the group they represent and then from their own perspectives.
  6. Ask students which groups' perspectives and experiences were the most difficult to locate and least publicized and whose were easiest to locate and best publicized. Lead them to recognize the control of information can influence public opinion and distort the average person's understanding of history.



  • Assess each student's understanding of the group he or she represented through oral contributions to the mural.
  • Assess students' understanding of U.S. history and policy and of the actions and perspectives of different groups through a quiz.
  • Assess students' skills at locating information through their oral contributions to the mural.
  • Assess students' development of personal perspectives through the class debate.
Excerpted from Turning on Learning: Five Approaches for Multicultural Teaching Plans for Race, Class, Gender and Disability (4th ed.), ISBN# 0-471-74657-6, by Carl A. Grant and Christine E. Sleeter. Used with permission of the authors.
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