By: Juan D. Coronado

Through the collective memory of what author Jeffrey Marcos Garcílazo labels the “Immigrant Generation,” Traqueros presents the important contributions that Mexicans made in the railroad industry in the United States. By reconstructing the daily lives of Mexican railroad workers (traqueros) this study examines the railroad industry from the perspective of Mexican, Mexican American, and Hispano laborers who, despite their contributions to the industry, are absent in the history of the nation’s railroads. Through a social historical perspective, Garcílazo provides a critical account of the arrival of the numerous railroad lines in the West and Southwest that encompassed Indian and former Mexican lands, along with the notions of White supremacy, domination, and exploitation they represented.
Published posthumously, Traqueros: Mexican Railroad Workers in the United States, 1870-1930, consists of six chapters based on oral histories, government documents, newspapers, and many other sources, including rich secondary accounts in the form of monographs. Overall, Garcílazo makes important contributions to the historical narrative of these railroad workers in the U.S. His approach in examining the history of the railroad in the US between 1880 and 1930 centers on the important role played by these three Latino subgroups of workers, who constituted almost two-thirds of the track labor force in the Southwest, Central Plains, and Midwest, but whose contributions are not reflected in the historical narrative (p. 34).
Amid the tension, instability, joblessness, and violence generated by the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Garcílazo shows, workers like Jesús Ramirez left Mexico at the age of fifteen in search of work in the railroad industry in the Midwest. He also focuses attention on the emergence of isolated Mexican boxcar communities from El Paso to Chicago that led to early Mexican immigrant communities. Subsequently, this led to the process of “barrioization,” the development of neighborhoods, which typically has been mostly studied in the Southwest where Mexican communities have been concentrated.
Garcílazo demonstrates how the introduction of multiple railroad lines changed the American West. The coming of the railroad symbolically represented another stage in the conquest of Native American and Hispano lands by Americans. The railroad lines put an end to open range ranching, further encroached on ranching and farming lands belonging to Native Americans and Hispanos, and put an end to the Santa Fe Trail. Hence, from Garcílazo’s perspective, the railroad also demonstrates the expansion of U.S. industrial capitalist society and its incorporation and occupation of the West.  American Indians, convinced by job opportunities, gave up significant lands to railroad companies and then became even further dislocated as many Native men never returned to their villages. Furthermore, the U.S. government used the railroad against American Indians as troops were deployed by train during the Indian Wars, thereby facilitating their conquest.
The chapter on traquero culture provides insight into the transformation of Hispano and Mexican culture due to the impact of railroad work. Garcílazo argues that as traquero families became exposed to American institutions, primarily schools, their culture transitioned from a Mexican culture to a unique traquero culture (p. 137). A major contribution this chapter offers stems from the inclusion of the roles Mexican women played in traquero society. Even though women’s labor was limited in track employment, they played a significant role in the “informal economy” that served railroad workers, e.g. laundry services, cooking, domestic workers, and entrepreneurs. In focusing on women, Garcílazo demonstrates that men were not the sole breadwinners and that women indeed were active participants in their homes, communities, and in traquero society.
The chapters on labor struggles and boxcar communities shed light on the sacrifices shared by traqueros and their families who were amongst the poorest Mexican immigrants in the U.S. (p. 115). Garcílazo points to the racism experienced by Mexicans in the railroad industry that hindered their inclusion into unions that organized and benefitted White railroad workers. In the late 19th century, it was not customary for unions such as the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees to organize immigrant and non-White workers, a discriminatory practice that continued during the 20th century by other unions in many industries in the U.S.
This volume is a remarkable addition to the study of U.S., Mexican American, women’s, and labor history, along with that of the U.S. West. Likewise, this work also contributes to the growing body of knowledge on Mexicans living in the Central Plains and Midwest during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those interested in these fields of study must read Traqueros. Also, anyone interested in the history of Chicanas/os and Latinas/os in the U.S. should read Garcílazo’s work.
Jeffrey Marcos Garcílazo has provided an engaging and incisive study of Mexican railroad workers, one that had been absent for too long from historical studies. Previous scholars excused the absence of Mexican railroad workers from historical accounts by labeling Mexicans as transient and or contracted workers who did not deserve the same attention given to Irish and Irish American railroad workers, or to Chinese and Chinese American railroad workers. Garcílazo also describes the repressive nature of the railroad companies, specifically how the railroad was introduced in Mexico, as tracks were constructed north to south, facilitating the exploitation of Mexico’s natural resources into the United States. Traqueros is an absolute gem of a book and survives Jeffrey, who passed along too early in life. This work will be appreciated for generations to come by scholars and students, as it marks a keystone in the history of Mexican railroad workers.