Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942 - 1964

Bittersweet Harvest

Through photographs and audio excerpts from oral histories, this exhibition examined the experiences of bracero workers and their families while providing insight into Mexican American history and historical context to today's debates on guest worker programs. Begun in 1942 to fill labor shortages in agriculture and the railroads caused by World War II, the bracero program eventually became 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, the bracero experience tells a story of both exploitation and opportunity to earn money. The exhibition drew extensively from the Museum's collection of photographs taken by photojournalist Leonard Nadel in 1956, as well as oral histories, documents, and objects collected by the Bracero Oral History Project.

Online exhibition

View objects and photographs from the exhibition, collected from individual braceros and their families and from a former bracero labor camp. The online exhibition features bilingual labels. Visit the website.