Number 40, Spring 2003

Gamio's U.S. work finally published in Mexico

An irony surrounds Manuel Gamio, father of Mexican anthropology and famed excavator of the Teotihuacán pyramids: Although Mexicans know his work on indigenism and archeology, few have heard of his 70-year-old classics on Mexican immigration into the United States.

UC MEXUS and CIESAS seek to correct that with a three-volume set of his early work accompanied by expert scholarly commentary. A first hardcover volume was released in Mexico in the original Spanish. A paperback edition and the second volume are expected some time this year, and volume three is set for release next year.

“Now, anyone interested in the historical roots of Mexican immigration to the U.S. has at their disposal the full transcripts – in Spanish – of the 131 interviews Gamio conducted,” said Stanford professor Albert Camarillo.

The task drew together an informal team of experts from Mexico and California who shared a passion for the work and the issues it raised.

In the U.S., a truncate, distorted English version of Gamio’s El Inmigrante Mexicano: la Historia de su Vida was published in 1931 on the heels of his scholarly Mexican Immigration to the United States. 1 Mexican-American scholars often cited the work but it remained little-known in Mexico.

Anthropologist Roberto Melville, an expert on irrigation and society, stumbled across Gamio's immigration research while studying Mexican cotton farmers in the border state of Tamaulipas who had settled within a new irrigation project during the 1930s, at the height of the Depression.

Gamio's presence permeates local and state records about the project, particularly regarding his involvement in the repatriation of unemployed Mexican cotton workers from Texas and their resettlement in Tamaulipas. Gamio's early work on Mexican migrants to the United States and his subsequent efforts to put this knowledge to practical use deeply impressed Melville. Gamio had tackled the indiscriminate expulsion of unwanted Mexicans while trying to recruit human resources for Mexico's economic development.

“As I began to learn more about his approach to the transformation of Mexican culture and society published in the United States, I became convinced that we have a debt to his academic legacy,” he said.

He found a ready ear in fellow migration scholar Juan Vicente Palerm, who facilitated a hunt for the manuscripts of the first book. A nationwide search of archives, and an appeal to Gamio's granddaughter, writer Lorena Gonzalez Gamio, turned up only the English version.

The scholars turned their attention to an in-depth review of the annotated transcripts for the first book. A study of the original 131 interviews in Spanish, stored at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, highlighted glaring deficiencies in the well-known U.S. publication.

The 1931 compilation contained about half the interviews. The scholars suspect that many responses were heavily edited, to the point of distorting the originals. Palerm solicited the help of historian Devra Weber to review the Bancroft manuscripts and prepare them for publication. Her work on migrant Mexican farm labor in the 1930s made her an invaluable asset.

The timing was propitious. Renewed interest in migration among Mexican scholars provided a ready readership. The sole 1969 translation of the excerpted interviews was out of print in Mexico and Gamio’s interpretive second volume was never published there. 2

“The continual migration of Mexican people to the U.S. over the past 100 years has made the pioneering work of anthropologist Manuel Gamio timeless,” historian Camarillo said.

1 The Life Story of the Mexican Immigrant: Autobiographic Documents Collected by Manuel Gamio (University of Chicago Press, 1930). The Mexican Imigrant, his life story, by Manuel Gamio edited by Robert Redfield (University of Chicago Press, 1931).

2 Gamio, M. (1969). El inmigrante mexicano: La historia de su vida. Notas prelim. de Gilberto Loyo sobre la inmigracion de mexicanos a los estados unidos de 1900 a 1967. Mexico D.F., UNAM.