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Chasing Slavery: The Persistence of Forced Labor in the Southwest

Sitting at the crossroads of empires, nation states, and migration streams, the American Southwest has long been a site of labor exploitation, and it continues to be a home to modern slavery. Since the 2000 passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the formation and adoption of the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol, human trafficking and modern slavery has captured the attention of human rights activists, academics, jurists, labor organizers, and many others. Reports that the number of people caught in conditions of modern slavery continue to rise, as do the types of interventions to fight modern slavery. This symposium seeks to take the global phenomenon of modern slavery and trafficking, and ground it in the Southwest, considering the ways that labor migration, immigration restriction, border violence, and economic inequality combine to produce the soil that can give rise to modern slavery. 

The conference and keynote speak to urgent conditions on the ground in Texas. Cities like Houston and Dallas have become known for both the presence of enslavement and the prosecution of slavery and human trafficking cases. The I-10 corridor linking Los Angeles, El Paso, Houston, New Orleans and Jacksonville is a major transit site for trafficked persons. This symposium will help people think about how practitioners of forced labor still found openings for their actions even after the 13th amendment abolished slavery.

The fight against modern slavery and human trafficking brings together diverse constituencies across the state of Texas, including churches, faith-based organizations, migrant rights advocacy organizations, labor unions and even the state government, which has long been a leader in combatting trafficking, being one of the first states to pass anti-human trafficking laws in 2008.

Organization
Rather than mark off certain parts of society as more prone to vulnerable and difficult working conditions than others (and thus, leaving some unexamined and off the hook), the symposium is organized around different spaces and sites where trafficking and forced labor have happened. Each panel will explore questions regarding changes in forced labor over time. The spaces are:

  • House and Home
  • Field and Sea
  • The Company and the Corporation
  • Salons, Streets and Cantinas
  • Labor Organizing and the Law

Panelists
This symposium includes scholars and organizers from a variety of disciplines, like labor history, prison history, Asian American Studies, women’s history, African American Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Latina/o Studies, legal history, labor law, sociology, political science, and international studies. Like Texas State, it is a majority-minority symposium. The majority of presenters are women, with ongoing connections to Native, African American, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Bolivian, German immigrant, Colombian and Mexican communities in the United States.  This representation adds to the argument that slavery -though abolished – still affects us all and the conditions that create the possibility of unequal exploitation can be transformed.

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Southwest, the College of Applied Arts, the College of Liberal Arts, Justice Talks, Center for the Diversity and Gender Studies, the Departments of History, Sociology, Philosophy, Psychology, Political Science, Anthropology, English, International Studies, and Criminal Justice.

Contact Us

John McKiernan-González
Center for the Study of the Southwest
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666
phone 512.245.2224
fax 512.245.7462

Jessica Pliley
Department of History
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666
Phone Number: 512.245.2142
Fax Number: 512.245.3043

Tammy Gonzales
Center for the Study of the Southwest
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666
phone 512.245.2224
fax 512.245.7462