Clutching at Straws Basque History Lecture – Sat., July 27, 2019

History Lecture
Saturday, July 27th, 2019
1:00-2:00 pm

Clutching at Straws: Basque Exiles in Mexico, the Bracero Program, and the Sheepherder Labor Shortage in the American West during the Second World War
Iker Saitua PhD., guest speaker


During the Second World War, the western sheep industry faced a serious labor shortage, or better said, a Basque labor shortage. By then, for many western sheep ranchers, the Basque was a cohesive, cheap and non-unionized labor immigrant group. Basque immigrants had traditionally immigrated to the American West to work for the open-range sheep industry since the late nineteenth century. The 1924 restrictive Immigration Act, which established annual quotas for legal immigration based on country of origin, resulted in a truncated labor supply from the Basque Country. From 1924 until the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, Basques generally had to find their places within the quota numbers set for Spain and France. Consequently, a shortage of Basque immigrant labor, deemed to be necessary and desirable, occurred in the western sheep industry which became apparent during World War II. On the other hand, the Bracero Program, a 1942 agricultural worker program that was established initially to meet the general wartime labor shortage, granted rights-to-work to Mexican nationals in the United States. During and after the Spanish Civil War, western ranchers tried to recruit Basque men exiled in Mexico through the Bracero Program to work in the open-range sheep industry in the West. This lecture explores this history of racialized immigrant labor, economic interests of ranchers and international relations.

Bio Sketch:

Iker Saitua is a Basque Government Postdoctoral Fellow in history at the University of California, Riverside. Saitua received his PhD from University of Nevada, Reno in 2016. Later, he presented his dissertation at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) that received summa cum laude honors in history. Born and raised in the Basque Country, Saitua earned his BA in history from UPV/EHU in 2010 before obtaining an MA degree in history, an MA degree in secondary education, and his two PhD degrees. Saitua’s specialties concern immigration, labor, livestock grazing, international relations, and the American West. His work has focused largely on the intersections between agricultural labor, natural resources, and livestock raising. He is an expert on Basque immigration and the sheep industry of the West. Saitua is the author of Basque Immigrants and Nevada’s Sheep Industry: Geopolitics and the Making of an Agricultural Workforce, 1880-1954 (University of Nevada Press, 2019).

Admission to this fascinating lecture is $5 for adults; free for members and children 17 and younger.