During World War II, Congress responded to growers’ worries about a shortage of agricultural workers by approving the temporary entry of migrants from impoverished rural areas in Mexico. The Bracero Program became the largest guest worker program in US history, employing more than four million Mexican workers over its 22-year history.
The program was controversial; some argued that the low wages at which migrants were willing to work threatened the jobs of domestic farmworkers. Though rules were in place to protect both migrants and domestic workers (such as guaranteed minimum wage and “humane treatment”) many employers ignored them, using braceros simply as a source of low-paid labor. The program became notorious for abuse and exploitation as well as the indignities of racism and discrimination inflicted upon the workers.
The Bracero Program was finally abolished in 1964, in response to pressure from labor unions and religious organizations.
The resources listed below explore the little-known history of the Bracero Program:
- “Bittersweet Harvest” is a traveling exhibit created by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History that explores how the Bracero Program produced both exploitation and opportunity. An online exhibition includes many photos and quotes from former braceros.
- The Bracero History Archives has made available a rich collection of oral histories and artifacts from those who came north as part of the Bracero Program.
- The documentary, Harvest of Loneliness (2010), foregrounds the voices and stories of bracero workers as well as wives and families they left behind.
- Bracero Stories (2008) is an award-winning bilingual documentary that explores the personal stories of five former braceros.
- The Bracero Project of the Sin Fronteras Organizing Project (El Paso, TX) aims to educate the public and gain greater recognition for the contributions of Mexican workers to agriculture in the United States
- Calavita, Kitty. Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the I.N.S.. 1992, Routledge.
- Cohen, Deborah. Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico. 2011, University of North Carolina Press.
- Galarza, Ernesto. Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story. 1964, The Rosicrucian Press.
- Gamboa, Erasmo. Mexican Labor and World War II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest 1942-1947. 2000, University of Washington Press.
- Jacobo, Jose Radolpho. Los Braceros: Memories of Bracero Workers, 1942-1964. 2004, Southern Border Press.
- Villasenor, Victor. Macho! 1973, Bantam Books (novel).
- Topete, Jesus. Aventuras de un bracero. 1948, Editorial AmeXica (in Spanish)
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