Crossing the border, Hidalgo, Texas Photo by Leonard Nadel, 1956 Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History Crossing the border was a major hurdle in the journey north. Braceros were often subjected to humiliating exams and bureaucratic procedures on the journey from home to their new working site.
Braceros on railroad tracks, Arizona, 1944 Courtesy: Aaron Castañeda Gamez “We came here to do a lot of the work that the men here couldn’t do. They were away at war. . . .” Pedro del Real Pérez, ex-bracero
Border Station Photo by Leonard Nadel, 1956 Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History Women often helped type paperwork at processing centers. Many tried to make the potential braceros feel more at ease while performing these tasks. A worker in a processing center in Hidalgo, Texas remarks “I used to talk to them and make them feel at ease….They see all these typewriters ….they would get very nervous and intimidated.”
Bracero in the field Photo by Leonard Nadel, 1956 Courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History Bracero is a term used in Mexico for a manual laborer. Between 1942 and 1964, an estimated two million Mexican men came to the United States on short-term labor contracts to help fill the labor shortages on farms and railroads caused by World War II. This bracero in Salinas, California holds a short-handled hoe.
Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH) will open its first Spanish/English bilingual exhibit, “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964,” Friday, December 9, 2016. The exhibit showcases the bracero program, the largest guest worker program in U.S. history, which brought millions of Mexican nationals north to work on short-term labor contracts. The work was backbreaking and living conditions poor, but the program offered Mexican men economic opportunities and much-needed work. Their contributions to communities in Mexico and the U.S. have had a lasting impact on the political, economic, social, and cultural landscapes of both nations.
The exploitation of bracero workers and violations of their legal rights and civil liberties prompted efforts to repeal the program. In 1956, photographer Leonard Nadel documented the harsh realities of bracero life, intending to highlight employer violations and improve bracero working conditions. The exhibition is traveled by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, and Nadel’s images provide the visuals for “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964.”
The new exhibit runs through Sunday, May 14, 2017, in the Museum’s Central Gallery at the Morgan Family Center, 5401 Caroline St., in Houston’s Museum District. The public is invited to an opening reception held 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, December 8, 2016, with opening remarks at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, but advance registration is required for this reception. Visit http://www.hmh.org/RegisterEvent.aspx to RSVP online. To renew a membership or to join and attend, visit www.hmh.org, e-mail Natalia Regan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 713-527-1616.
“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964,” was organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Funding was provided by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Presented locally by Wells Fargo, “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964” is also made possible in part with a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Dr. Jesus Esparza is hosting a bracero oral history project documenting
Houston-area braceros or family members’ stories. To participate, please contact Dr. Esparza at