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Los Braceros

October 12, 2021

As Hispanic Heritage Months nears its end, we look at how the U.S. and Mexican governments cooperated in a program that brought seasonal workers from Mexico into the United States. Instituted in 1942, the Bracero Program continued until 1964. The Spanish word bracero means “strong arms” and more generally identifies a laborer. Labor shortages during World War II became the impetus for a legal system for guest workers from Mexico. The scope of the program can be identified in a couple of ways: (1) the number of men from Mexico who worked as farm laborers and in railway construction--a total of 4.6 million, and (2) the government recognition and sanction of the U.S. appetite for cheaper labor that continues to be in tension with a resistance to immigration and foreign labor.

The video clip this week describes the bracero experience in Oregon. A deeper dive into the Bracero Program reveals numerous abuses. In Mexico the process of being selected for the limited number of workers allowed was plagued with wide scale corruption. Braceros entering the country were greeted with inhuman treatment which included fumigation with toxic chemicals. The program included stipulations for the employers of guest workers in the 23 states that participated in the program. Braceros were to receive food, housing, and a minimum pay of 50 cents an hour. The level of poverty in Mexico created a situation in which the laborers tolerated mistreatment from employers who often took advantage of the braceros. Too often the braceros received substandard food and housing and found it difficult to collect their wages.