Wyoming Twentieth-Century Industrialization
Migrant labor increasingly became a mainstay of U.S. economic development at the turn of the twentieth century; the domestic labor supply could not keep up with rapid industrialization and increasing commercial agriculture across the country. Increased urbanization, labor competition, and labor organizing hardened U.S. xenophobia, allowing nativist forces to influence restrictive immigration policies that first disqualified Asians, then curtailed central, southern, and eastern European population flows. With these migrant labor flows cut off, the Mexican American migrant came to the forefront.
The economic profits reaped through Mexican American and Mexican migrant labor instantaneously flowed to regions outside of the U.S. Southwest. Formal and informal labor recruitment processes were put into place to ameliorate perceived and actual labor shortages during the first half of the twentieth century. For many Mexican Latinos, higher wages and expanded economic opportunities compensated for the harsh climatic conditions and ethnic isolation often experienced in non-southwestern communities. However, increased economic mobility did not always temper individual and societal prejudice and discrimination against Mexicans in rural and urban communities beyond the Southwest.
Mexican railroad workers began to join Mexican vaqueros, borregueros, hunters, packers, mule skinners, and teamsters in the development of Wyoming communities during the first half of the twentieth century. Mexican women, much like their white counterparts, solidified this presence in the railroad industry through their wartime efforts. Today railroad employment continues to be an economic mainstay for Wyoming Latinos. While not as important today as it was in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, the legacy of Mexican sugar beet workers is one of resilience and adaptation in the face of harsh labor exploitation and social segregation. Less documentation exists of the involvement of Wyoming Latinos in mining; nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that raw-resources extraction is drawing a new generation of Latinos into the state.