Describe the life of a Mexican hacienda worker.

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During Mexico's colonial period, much of the economy was characterized by the hacienda system. These were self-contained units that could have hundreds of workers in varying social classes. Most haciendas included farms that grew some sort of cash crop; they also held the workshops or fabricas that processed it. Some...

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During Mexico's colonial period, much of the economy was characterized by the hacienda system. These were self-contained units that could have hundreds of workers in varying social classes. Most haciendas included farms that grew some sort of cash crop; they also held the workshops or fabricas that processed it. Some included mining or ranching operations.

The bulk of the workers on these haciendas typically came from indigenous communities and represented the bottom of society. They often lived on the hacienda or in a nearby community. Work was dictated by the patron and his overseers. Technically hacienda workers were supposed to earn wages. In practice, they often did not as hacienda owners easily kept many workers in debt to the hacienda, thus keeping them bound to the land. Some workers were employed year-round while others were hired on a temporary basis during planting and harvest seasons. Work was typically arduous and dangerous. Depending on the products of the particular hacienda, workers worked every daylight hour six days a weak. Men, women, children, and the elderly all worked in the haciendas.

Many haciendas were owned by Catholic entities, particularly the Jesuit and Dominican orders. Whether or not a particular hacienda was part of the Church, they all had a chapel or parish and Sunday attendance was often compulsory. In the early days of this system, thousands of indigenous Mexicans were forcibly baptized.

This system continued in many of the same ways in the decades after Mexican independence. The Reforma of the 1860s was a mixed blessing for many hacienda workers. It freed most from the system of debt peonage that they had toiled under. It also allowed hacienda owners to grab more land forcing more people into the system. It wasn't until the reforms following the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century that this system of semi-forced labor came to an end.

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