Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Bracero History Archive

The current proposals for a guest worker program are not the first time lawmakers have tried to utilize foreign labor.  Indeed, from 1942 to 1964, millions of Mexican migrant workers came to the United States through the Bracero Program.  Initially spurred by the rise in demand at the outset of the World War II, the Bracero Program facilitated tremendous growth in American agriculture and to a smaller extent, the railroad industry.  The Bracero History Archive has assembled over 3,000 items, which breathe life into an often-forgotten part of American history.  The jewel of the archive is the collection of oral histories, which illuminate the everyday struggles of life as a bracero.  Contributors, often family members of the braceros, post to the archive with stories and commentaries about their family and how the Bracero program impacted their lives.  For example, the son of a migrant worker recounts how on especially cold days, he would awake to a loud horn and the bustle of vehicles as the workers hurriedly tried to warm the lemon groves to keep the lemons from freezing.  The collection reveals that the program was heavily documented (e.g. identification cards, registration forms, etc.), which offers a picture of historical legal immigration that is often obscured in contemporary political discourse.  The archive also contains a myriad of photographs of braceros and their families, imbuing a human element to the history of immigration in the U.S.