Texas Farm Workers and Migrant Farm Labor

This post was written by Payton Perez. Payton is a Junior, Political Science major; this is her first year working at The Texas Collection. Payton conducted preservation services on the photographs in the Texas Farmworkers in the Midwest Photograph collection, Accession #754.

The newly added Texas Farm Workers in the Midwest Photograph collection tells the story of Texas migrant workers through photographs and articles created by several newspaper media outlets from 1951 to 1969. Eight black and white photos, comprised of candid, posed, and action shots allow access into the lives of Texas migrant farm workers. Many of these workers traveled to Midwestern states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, and Indiana in search of work. Different aspects of life can be seen through these photos: travel, family, housing, education, and the labor experiences of migrant farm workers. Specifically, these photos largely tell the story of Mexican American workers coming from Texas, looking for anyone to hire them. Some photographs are accompanied by articles which offer more insight into the photograph itself and the lifestyle these farmers lived.

Terri Maier reading to two children of migrant farm workers.

Migrant farm workers have been around for decades, and these Texas Farm Workers are no different. When these articles were written, an estimated 127,800 people would leave southern Texas to go work on farms in other states, in addition to the almost a million others who traveled from other parts of the southern United States in search of the same goal. Some migrant workers would find work, but most would not, causing this lifestyle to be extremely uncertain and dangerous. Workers often were subjected to harsh climates and tasks that were expected of them, causing this labor-intensive job to be physically demanding and difficult to sustain.

Educational opportunities were severely limited for families as well. Moving around so often prevented children from attending school regularly, leading them to fall behind not only in their education, but also in basic skills. One photograph from 1965 shows Terri Maier of Wisconsin, teaching two children of migrant laborers outdoors. This was part of a program Maier participated in that had a goal of preparing children for regular school when they could go, and not letting them fall too far behind their peers. The state of Wisconsin also attempted to help provide methods of education to these young people in migrant families so that they could keep up with the other children in school year-round. Furthermore, a photo of two young women, Maria and Barbara Lozano, from 1951 has an article attached to it which discusses Minnesota’s attempts of regulating the problem of children’s education. Hollandale, Minnesota, had been described as “the world’s largest garden patch,” drawing in many migrant families from all over the country, including Texas. This in turn meant that many children of migrant families would occupy Hollandale and cause the city to develop a method of fixing this educational dilemma that then had national impacts.

Group of migrant farm workers plowing a field. Many wearing long clothing and headwear to protect their skin from the sun.

Most of the photos in this collection depict the realities of the day-to-day activities of migrant workers. Their housing was unreliable at best, resembling temporary shacks more than familial homes. Photos of workers physically in the field show them picking cucumbers, cherries, or any other crop they were assigned to. Many of the workers wore full coverage clothing, hats, or other head garments to protect themselves from the sun and other harsh environmental factors. Specifically, the story of Alex Torres and his family is highlighted in an article associated with a photo of him, his wife, and presumably their baby taking a break from their cherry-picking jobs. Torres, a crew leader, oversaw finding work for his family and the people in his crew. Twenty-one people – “10 men and women, 11 children,” Torres was responsible for, and they were luckier than most in finding work at Seth Thompkins’ cherry orchard near Old Mission, Michigan.  They migrated from Texas to Michigan in Torres’ “beat up $350 truck” which was the reason Torres was named leader. These seemingly harsh conditions were the norm for many migrant workers during this time, who lived in uncertainty and hope of finding work.

This small collection of photographs and articles opens a window into 1950s-1960s Texas and America as a whole. The typical life of a migrant worker, their travel plans, their educational complications, and their search for work can all be seen in these photographs and the words written about them.

Alex Torres with his wife and child, taking a break under the shade of a tree.


Green, Charles H. “Writer Discovers Migrant Workers Life is Not Easy.” Marshall News Messenger (Marshall, TX). 1963 September 2.
Schaefer, Edward. “Hollandale May Set Pattern in Schools for Migratory Workers.” Minneapolis Star (Minneapolis, MN). 1951 December 25.

No Comments

Post a Comment