Alberto García is Assistant Professor of History at San José State University.
Abandoning Their Beloved Land offers an essential new history of the Bracero Program, a bilateral initiative that allowed Mexican men to work in the United States as seasonal contract farmworkers from 1942 to 1964. Using national and local archives in Mexico, historian Alberto García uncovers previously unexamined political factors that shaped the direction of the program, including how officials administered the bracero selection process and what motivated campesinos from central states to migrate. Notably, García’s book reveals how and why the Mexican government’s delegation of Bracero Program–related responsibilities, the powerful influence of conservative Catholic opposition groups in central Mexico, and the failures of the revolution’s agrarian reform all profoundly influenced the program’s administration and individuals’ decisions to migrate as braceros.
Tell us about your journey to your current position as an Assistant Professor of History at San Jose State University. What motivated you to become an academic, and to focus on Latin American history with an emphasis on 20th-century Mexico?
History was always my favorite subject when I was growing up. But I took a special interest in Latin American, and specifically twentieth-century Mexican, history because of my family’s background. I’m a first-generation US citizen whose parents migrated to California from the Mexican state of Michoacán. Fortunately, my family was able to make trips to our hometown during the winter holidays when I was growing up, and that gave me the opportunity to meet two of my maternal great-grandparents. They were born at the turn of the twentieth century, and their stories, along with those of my grandparents and parents, sparked my initial curiosity in the Mexican twentieth century.
Later on, when I was in middle school, my future brother-in-law gave me one of his college textbooks about Mexican history, and that further fueled my interest. I eventually enrolled at the University of California, Davis as an undergraduate history major specializing in Latin America. And it was then, thanks to Charles Walker, my advisor, that I first considered making history my profession. Charles regularly told me that my work was graduate level quality, and after hearing that several times, I asked him what specifically he meant by that. He told me that he believed that I had the skills to thrive in graduate school and become an academic, and he encouraged me to begin applying to graduate programs. I did, and I eventually earned admission to the History Department at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was fortunate enough to be mentored by Margaret Chowning.
After receiving my Ph.D. at Berkeley, I completed a one-year postdoctoral position at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Historical Studies, and I then joined the faculty at San José State University as an Assistant Professor of History.
What was the process like to publish your book, Abandoning Their Beloved Land? What helped you the most along the way?
The publication process for me was relatively smooth and straightforward, and that is all thanks to the amazing University of California Press editors I worked with, specifically Kate Marshall, Enrique Ochoa-Kaup, and Jeff Anderson. Kate was my first contact at UC Press, and shortly after I submitted my book proposal to her, she reached out to detail the entire process and timeline, explain what would be expected of me, and describe what role she and the rest of the staff at the press would play. This was especially reassuring because I submitted my book proposal in the summer of 2020, that is, in the midst of the initial heights of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kate and Enrique guided me through the initial manuscript submission and review process, the submission of my revised manuscript, and the vote by the editorial board that formally approved my manuscript for publication. They were both kind and conscientious at each step of the process, and one or both of them always responded quickly whenever I had any questions or concerns that needed to be addressed.
Once the manuscript shifted into production, Jeff guided me through that process with the same kindness and expertise that Kate and Enrique had shown me during the submission and revision phase. He clearly communicated what deadlines I had to meet for the submission of my copyedit and page proof revisions, recommended indexers that I could hire, and answered any and all questions that I had during the final steps of the process.
Having gone through the process yourself, what advice do you have for other first-generation scholars who may still be starting out?
My biggest piece of advice to other first-generation scholars is: if you have questions about the publication process (which I certainly did at the beginning) do not be afraid to ask them! These questions can be addressed to faculty mentors and/or peers who have already published books, or the acquisitions editors at presses that you are considering submitting proposals to. In my experience, there are plenty of folks who are more than happy to answer questions and clarify what the publication process actually entails.
What does supporting first-gen scholars mean to you?
It means being as available as I can to answer questions. Having now published a book, I think that the most important thing I can do is answer questions and sharing my experiences in spaces like this blog.