This lithograph of a boy at work was designed in the late 1930s by the Mexican American artist Ramón Contreras (1919-1940). Mexican-born, he grew up in San Bernardino, a major agricultural town east of Los Angeles. His career was tragically short. Before he died of cancer at the age of 21, Contreras became the youngest artist ever invited to the Golden Gate International Exposition, and traveled to Mexico to meet the famed muralist Diego Rivera. Contreras came of age during the Great Depression (1930s), a period of economic crisis for all Americans and for people around the globe. Much of the art produced during these difficult years reflects a political and aesthetic vision–to document and ennoble the lives of ordinary working people. Here, Contreras presents us with an idealized image of a confident young man in motion. Identifiably Mexican with his serape draped over one shoulder, the boy drawn by Contreras triumphantly at the center of the frame is perhaps a fruit vendor. He is probably not a fruit picker–note the non-Californian bananas arrayed with other warm-weather fruits in his basket. This lithograph was printed in about 1950 by Lynton Kistler–it is one of the 2,700 prints by this prominent Los Angeles printer that are housed in the Graphic Arts Collection of the National Museum of American History.
overall: 42.6 cm x 32.2 cm; 16 3/4 in x 12 11/16 in
United States: Colorado, Colorado Springs
The French-born artist Jean Charlot spent his early career during the 1920s in Mexico City. His 1948 lithograph depicts a scene from the domestic life of a Mexican indigenous woman, a favorite theme of the artist. Household work—without the aid of most, if any, electrical appliances—was a full-time job for many working-class and poor Mexican women, north and south of the border, well into the 20th century. Food preparation was especially labor-intensive. Corn had to be processed, wood gathered, and water fetched, in the midst of child rearing and other household duties. This was the daily fare of most women, who rarely worked outside the home after marriage. Mexican American women who found work in cities like El Paso in the early 20th century were either single or widowed. Many worked as domestic servants, others in industrial laundries or textile mills. Like today, some women turned to their kitchens to earn a living, making meager profits selling prepared food on the street to Mexican American workers and Mexican migrants.
overall: 40.1 cm x 28.6 cm; 15 13/16 in x 11 1/4 in
This aquatint, titled Market Plaza by Geoge O. "Pop" Hart, was printed about 1925, a period of peak migration for workers streaming to the United States seeking opportunity in the United States and escape from the chaos of the Mexican Revolution (1910 1921). Many of the married men settled in the United States and brought their wives and families—from 1900 to 1932, the Mexican-born population of the United States grew from 103,000 to over 1,400,000. Other Mexican workers returned to their homes in Jalisco, Guanajuato, or Michoacán, and came north periodically in search of seasonal or temporary work. Replacing recently banned workers from Asia, these men provided cheap labor for the newly irrigated cotton fields of Texas and Arizona, the copper mines of Utah, the fruit processing plants of California, and the railroads that connected all points in between. An abundance of factory jobs also increasingly attracted Mexican migrants to cities like Chicago and Milwaukee. But many of these hard-earned economic opportunities in the United States came to an end during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Mexican workers in areas like California had to compete with economic refugees from across the country. Many were targets of discrimination and anti-immigrant violence. Thousands of American citizens were among the 500,000 men, women, and children forcibly and suddenly moved to Mexico on buses and trains from Texas and California during the Great Depression. This print is one of a series of images created by American artists traveling in Mexico.