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Federal Writer's Project Interview, Case #4, with a Male Immigrant from Guajaca, Mexico, 1939

Mexico, Case #4
New York City Municipal Archives, NYCMA_WPA-FWP_B1_03
Document Description
Interview with a man from Guajaca (Oaxaca), Mexico, conducted by Mary Testa, reporter for the New York City Unit of the Federal Writers' Project, March 1, 1939. From Spanish Book—Life Histories (Part 1).
When was this man born? How old was he when he came to the U.S.?
What was this man seeking when he came to the U.S.? 
Describe this man’s life in his native Mexico.  Did his life improve or decline after he came to America?
Overall, would you say this man was happy or not? Explain.
Whom does he hold responsible for his situation in life?
What job did he do in Detroit, and how did he learn the skills necessary for the job?
Whom does he mean when he says, “They should come to their senses and give people decent places to live”?
What reason does this man give for moving to Harlem?
What is this man’s opinion of labor unions? What is your evidence?
What does he feel is an option for him to improve his life now?
Historical Challenges
Research the 1918 Ford factory strike and/or the steel mill strikes of the time in Detroit. What would this man’s experiences as a strikebreaker have been? What was the Crisis of 1921? Make a timeline of this man’s life experiences.
This man speaks of Cardenas and Franco from Mexico. Who were they and what were their policies?
Create a collage that incorporates the activities associated with WPA programs during the New Deal.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Music: Write a ballad about this man’s life. Set it to music that fits with the emotion of the story. Find labor union songs from the 1920s. What are they about?
English Language Arts: Write a letter to your family back home telling how things have changed for you, having come from being the poor child of a peon family/cattle rancher/steel worker/ dishwasher you were to the busboy you are now.
English as a Second Language/Foreign Language: Use key phrases to describe the progression of this man’s life.
Art: Make a collage that includes images that represent this man’s experiences as an immigrant.
Math: Using the inflation calculator listed under Resources below, determine what this man’s wages in the 1920s and 1930s would be today. Would you say he made a lot of money or not? Explain.

Historical Context
On May 6, 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created to help provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression. Though some 90% of WPA projects were directed at unskilled blue-collar workers, the WPA also employed many previously unemployed white-collar artists, musicians, actors, and writers in such projects as the Federal Theater Project and the Federal Writers’ Project.    

Over 8.5 million Americans were hired through the WPA, mostly to work in manual labor and at building roads and constructing parks. Unemployed artists and writers were given work through a branch of the WPA known as the Federal Writers’ Project. Among the most compelling products of the Writers’ Project are interviews with former slaves and immigrants.

This is an interview with a Mexican-American immigrant. Such immigrants are some of the oldest and the newest inhabitants of the U.S.  Many had settled in the western and southern regions of North America even before the U.S. existed.  Millions came to America during the twentieth century and continue to come today, both legally and illegally.  In most cases, they are seeking jobs not available in Mexico.  

Today, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans find themselves in the middle of the quest for U.S. immigration reform.  Mexican-Americans and their descendents now make up a significant portion of the U.S. population and have become one of the most influential social and cultural groups in the country.

Essential Question
Why do people migrate?
How does migraton affect the migrant and the community into which they migrate?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main idea of this document and evaluate the significance of the information obtained from this interview.