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menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

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"Child of the Romans"

The poetry of Carl Sandburg often documented the lives of ordinary working people in his adopted city of Chicago. Here he contrasts the backbreaking work and simple lunch of a railroad laborer with the comfortable lives and fine food enjoyed by the [...]

Fruit Plantations Advertise for Japanese Workers

Sugar growers made a deal with the Japanese government in 1884 that allowed thousands of Japanese to immigrate to the Hawaiian islands to work on plantations. Western growers were also eager to tap into this new, un-unionized and cheap labor source. [...]

An Ybor City Resident Describes Work in the Cigar Factories

The family of Cesar Marcos Medina moved from Cuba to Ybor City in Tampa, Florida in 1903. In this interview, Medina details the experiences of his father, who worked as a lector (reader) in the city's cigar factories. Medina also describes the [...]

Interview with a Puerto Rican Cigarworker in New York

In his memoirs, the Puerto Rican-born cigar maker Bernardo Vega included this interview he conducted with a fellow immigrant about Puerto Rican life in New York during the early part of the twentieth century. In response to Vega's questions, the [...]

A Lector Reads to Cigar Workers

The lector, or reader, was an institution in Tampa cigar factories. Elected and paid by the workers, the lector read material of their choosing aloud as the workers assembled cigars. Lectores read newspapers, current affairs publications, and even [...]

A Spanish-language Newspaper in Tampa, Florida

Cubans living in Tampa during the early part of the twentieth century published their own newspapers in Spanish. In addition to local news, the papers carried dispatches from Cuba and Spain. These papers were frequently read aloud in the city's [...]

"To Increase Common Labor Supply with Porto Ricans"

With the passage of the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917, Puerto Ricans became citizens of the United States. At the same time, penetration of the island by American-backed sugar interests displaced thousands of rural inhabitants, pushing them into a wage [...]

A Mexican Immigrant Describes Her Work in Los Angeles

Elisa Silva was born in Mazatlán, Mexico and emigrated to the United States at age twenty, eventually settling in Los Angeles. In this interview, conducted during the mid-1920s, Silva describes her motivation for coming, her difficulties finding [...]

Mexican Immigrant Corridos

Ballads are songs that tell a story, often a sad one. Corridos are a form of Mexican ballad that describe the difficulties of life. Mexican immigrants brought corridos with them and even composed new ones that drew upon their experiences in the [...]

Race Relations in the U.S. Southwest

In this excerpt from his book A Different Mirror, historian Ronald Takaki describes the relationships between Mexicans and white Americans in the Southwest. Using quotations from the period, Takaki shows how ordinary Mexicans and Americans [...]

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