“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964

Detail from Payday, photo by Leonard Nadel, 1956.

Concerns about labor issues plagued the bracero program from the start. With an eye on reducing costs and improving profits, growers saw the bracero program as a source of cheap labor. Often, braceros weren’t sure what their wages were based on or if they were being compensated fairly for their work. Here two workers discuss their paycheck.

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service will highlight a little-known chapter in American history as its fall 2012 free resource for schools, migrant education centers, museums and libraries across the country. “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964,” a colorful set of six bilingual posters with images and interviews by documentary photographer Leonard Nadel, is based on the traveling exhibition by the same name, currently touring the United States.

Facing labor shortages on the home front during World War II, the United States initiated a series of agreements with Mexico to recruit guest workers for American farms and railroads. The Emergency Farm Labor Program, more familiarly known as the Bracero Program, allowed approximately 2 million Mexicans to enter the United States. While the work was often grueling, the program offered participants economic opportunity. The contributions made by these laborers have had significant impact on the political, economic and social climate of both the United States and Mexico.

The goal of the poster sets is to celebrate the impact and achievements of migrant farm workers by enabling people of all ages to learn more about the stories behind the Braceros. Online educational resources and downloadable poster files are available at www.sites.si.edu/bracero.

“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964” was organized by the National Museum of American history in partnership with SITES, and received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Posted: 9 October 2012
About the Author:

Christin Chism currently works in Public Affairs for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and is always excited about the amazing exhibitions that SITES is placing all over the country!