Begun in 1942 as a temporary war measure to address labor needs in agriculture and the railroads, the bracero program eventually become the largest guest worker program in U.S. history. Small farmers, large growers, and farm associations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, and 23 other states hired Mexican braceros to provide manpower during peak harvest and cultivation times. By the time the program was canceled in 1964, an estimated 4.6 million contracts had been awarded.
Bittersweet Harvest, a moving new bilingual exhibition organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) and circulated by SITES, examines the experiences of bracero workers and their families, providing rich insight into Mexican American history and historical background to today’s debates on guest worker programs. Consisting of 15 freestanding, illustrated banners, the exhibition combines recent scholarship, powerful photographs from the Smithsonian’s collection, and audio excerpts from oral histories contributed by former contract workers.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.