Smithsonian’s Bracero History Project Records Bittersweet History

Next Stop: Arizona
December 26, 2007

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and its partner, the University of Texas El Paso, will host a series of “collection days” throughout Arizona to record oral histories as part of the Bracero History Project.  The Bracero History Project seeks to preserve and collect the history of the guest worker program administered by the U.S. government between 1942 and 1964.

A consortium of museums, universities and cultural institutions are part of the Bracero project. Representatives will host sessions Jan. 4, 2008 in Douglas; Jan. 5-6 in Tucson; Jan. 7 in Casa Grande; and Jan. 9-12 in Phoenix. Former guest workers, family members and others with information about the Bracero program may schedule an oral history session by contacting Kristine Navarro, director of the Institute of Oral History at UTEP, at (915)892-4304.

Throughout the last two years, the Bracero project has hosted a series of meetings and collection opportunities in California, Illinois and Texas aimed at reaching out to the Mexican-American community and former Bracero families and their descendents.

The National Museum of American History also is interested in the donation of objects, including period hand tools, clothing, photographs and documents, such as contracts, identification cards and letters.

In 1942, the United States entered into a series of agreements with Mexico to organize the Bracero Program in order to overcome the labor shortage caused by World War II. The program enabled Mexican citizens to come to the United States for temporary labor contracts predominantly for work in the agriculture industry.

“The Bracero Program not only influenced the agricultural economy and industrial technology, but also made a significant impact on American and Mexican culture,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “This project will capture the history of the Bracero Program in order to recognize and educate the public about this important chapter in American history.”

“The process of documenting Bracero workers' contributions and sacrifices is a powerful experience,” said Kristine Navarro, director of UTEP’s Institute of Oral History. “With our partners, we hope to preserve the legacy of these hardworking individuals, who gave so much in helping grow and shape the identity of Arizona and elsewhere.”

During the 22-year period of the guest worker program, millions of Mexicans came to the United States to work. The Bracero Program was the nation’s largest guest worker program in the 20th century. While Bracero workers were supposed to return to Mexico at the end of their labor contracts, some remained. Others later immigrated to the United States, helped by the experience and knowledge they gained in the Bracero Program.

Initial funding for the Bracero History Project was provided by the Smithsonian’s Center for Latino Initiatives, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  For more information about the Bracero History Project, please visit http://braceroarchive.org.
 
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. Documenting the American experience from Colonial times to the present, the museum looks at growth and change in the United States. The museum is closed for major renovations. For information about the museum, please visit http://americanhistory.si.edu or call Smithsonian Information at (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).

The Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas at El Paso was established in 1972 for the purpose of "preserving the history of the region adjacent to the Rio Grande both in the United States and in Mexico." Since that time, the Institute has built one of the largest border-related oral history collections in the United States. While focusing on the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez area, the collection also contains interviews dealing with the history of communities all along the U.S.-Mexico border. For information about the Institute, please visit: http://academics.utep.edu/Default.aspx?alias=academics.utep.edu/oralhistory or call (915)747-5238.