A paradox in Mexican lore, the coyote is both an accidental hero fighting colonial oppressors and a conscious exploiter of Mexican people [1]. Evolving from myth, the human coyote (Mexican smuggler) and its trade (coyotaje) were formed by immigration policies and systems of exclusion like the bilateral Bracero Program (1940-1965).

This program was designed to funnel a contracted supply of Mexican labor to meet U.S. industrial, agricultural, and manufacturing needs and to build infrastructure [2]. The program was national, but particularly benefited profitable southwestern agribusinesses [3]. Qualified men had their contracts negotiated by enganchadors (labor recruiters), were given work visas, and sent to work [2].

In 1954, Texas was banned from the program, largely due to allegations of contract violations and racial discrimination, enforcing farmer and migrant reliance on illegal methods of contracting labor and migration [2].

Although intended to diminish undocumented migration, the exclusion of many, particularly women and children, meant that migrants increasingly relied on unpredictable and potentially dangerous coyotes to leave the stagnant Mexican economy to reach U.S. employment opportunities [2]. In other words, the coyote, in contrast to the enganchador, was formed by systems designed to oppose it. Mexican subversive culture in the form of folklore and song represents this contradiction and the importance of the coyote [4]. American immigration policies, legal exclusion, Border Patrol practices, as well as gendered and racial discrimination contributed to demand for coyotes, while Mexican economic disparity produced the supply of undocumented immigrants.


Image: Mexican braceros picking cotton in Texas.

[1] Bright, William. A Coyote Reader. Oxford: U of California P, 1993. Print.

[2] Hernández, Kelly Lytle. Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol. Los Angeles: Berkeley UP, 2010. Print.

[3] Spener, David. Clandestine Crossings: Migrants and Coyotes on the Texas Mexico Border. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2009. Print.

[4] Herrera-Sobek, Maria. Northward Bound: The Mexican Immigrant Experience in Ballad and Song. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993. Print.

Harris, Marvin. Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for Science of a Culture. New York: Random House, 1979. 201-203.Print.

Smith, Carlton. Coyote Kills John Wayne: Postmodernism and Contemporary Fictions of the Transcultural Frontier. Hanover: UP of New England, 2000. Print.