The following is a text transcript of the Bracero Program video, which is made available by the California Department of Education’s Educator Excellence & Equity Division.
ANNOUNCER: The Bracero Program
This video is made possible by the California Department of Education, as part of the Content, Literacy, Inquiry, and Citizenship Project, which provides professional learning and resources to help educators and school administrators successfully implement California’s History-Social Science Framework.
The video was developed in partnership with the Sacramento County Office of Education and the Bracero History Archive at George Mason University.
FRANK: Welcome to this brief overview of the Bracero Program and its connections to California’s History-Social Science Standards and Framework.
I’m Frank Pisi from the Sacramento County Office of Education, and it’s my pleasure to share some ideas that will help you decide when and how to teach this important topic to your students.
The Bracero Program is addressed in California’s Framework in the 4th and 11th grades.
In addition, this presentation will assist you in developing your students’ inquiry-based critical thinking skills while promoting engaged and knowledgeable citizenry in history and related social sciences.
Let’s begin with a brief overview of the Bracero Program.
Between the years of 1942 and 1964, an agreement was established between the American and Mexican governments, which brought millions of Mexican laborers to the United States to work, mainly in agriculture.
This agreement, known as the Bracero Program, enabled Mexican workers to sign short-term contracts to harvest crops and perform other manual labor jobs in the U.S. Originally, the rationale was to have the Braceros fill the gap left by American workers who were serving in World War II.
It’s important to note that the Spanish word “Bracero” translates to a “person who does manual labor.”
During this time in history, Mexico was experiencing high unemployment rates and poverty, due partly to an extreme drought.
While the Braceros experienced challenging living and working conditions in the U.S., many Braceros felt that it was better than having no employment at all in Mexico.
ANNOUNCER: As part of the Bracero Program, millions of workers traveled from all across Mexico to the United States. Their destinations were mainly border states, such as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. These border states had large agricultural industries and a high need for laborers.
Before coming to the United States, potential laborers were required to go to reception centers in Mexico. Holding their belongings, they applied for work in the hope of being selected for the journey to the United States.
In this photo from 1956, hundreds of potential workers are gathered outside of a reception center in Monterrey, Mexico.
In this historic image, Braceros walked side by side, forming long lines as they trekked for miles through the hot and arid Mexican landscape to ultimately arrive in the United States.
During a 2005 audio interview with Pedro del Real Perez, a former Bracero, he said:
[In Spanish] “Todo mundo queria venir aca.”
ANNOUNCER: “Everyone wanted to come here. For good or bad, well treated or poorly treated, either way, people wanted to come. We needed to come.”
ANNOUNCER: Before being allowed to cross the border into the United States, the Mexican laborers endured often humiliating medical exams and were sprayed with toxic chemicals in an effort to protect U.S. crops.
Here, a large group of approximately 100 Braceros is being examined by medical personnel and sprayed with the pesticide, DDT.
Upon arriving in the U.S., the Braceros were transported to locations indicated on their contracts. These locations were mostly farms that needed laborers.
The Braceros performed back-breaking work known as “stoop labor,” which involved bending and squatting for many hours.
As shown, stoop labor was performed in large fields in order to plant seeds in long rows and harvest various crops. Crops planted and harvested by Braceros in California and other western states included cotton, lettuce, tomatoes, grapes, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
FRANK: So, when do we teach about the Bracero program?
In the History-Social Science Framework, the Bracero Program is addressed in grades 4 and 11.
Fourth grade teachers may consider teaching about the Bracero Program in units involving immigration and California’s rapid population growth.
Eleventh grade teachers might cover this topic while teaching about World War II, examining the political and social ramifications of the Bracero Program.
Utilizing an inquiry-based approach, you will have the opportunity to go far beyond teaching just the facts about the Bracero Program.
Students may choose to investigate the topic through a number of different lenses, including history, economics, geography, politics and social perspectives. Approaching investigations in these ways is vital for student learning, critical thinking, and literacy. Students will gain an understanding of relationships between events, perspective and bias, and corroboration. These skills should help students relate better to the content.
By taking an inquiry-based approach to the Bracero Program, students’ individual interests can be sparked, making the content more meaningful.
ANNOUNCER: While studying the Bracero Program from the historical perspective, students may investigate events leading up to the creation of the Bracero Program.
They may also trace the major events related to the Program. Let’s examine this timeline.
- In 1924, the U.S. Congress passed the Immigration Act, which restricted immigration based on country of origin.
- In 1941, the U.S. entered World War II.
- In 1942, an Executive order created the Bracero Program based on a diplomatic agreement between U.S. and Mexico.
- In 1951 Congress passed Public Law 78, which formalized the Bracero Program.
- In 1964 the Bracero Program ended.
- And in 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which repealed the Immigration Act of 1924.
[Historical map of world]
Studying the Bracero Program from an economics lens provides students with the opportunity to learn about the economic impact of the Bracero Program on the United States and Mexico, as well as its economic impact on individual Braceros.
[Image of farm owner and approximately 50 workers]
From the perspective of farm owners, there was a fear that military deployment and new wartime jobs would mean a reduction in the number of available farm laborers.
New wartime jobs included assembling B-34 bombers, as depicted here.
Farmers were also concerned that they’d need to increase workers’ pay drastically in order to attract enough laborers.
Students can learn that there was an economic motivation for the Bracero Program.
For individual Braceros, employers did not always honor their contracts. Pay was often lower, hours longer, and conditions more grueling than promised.
For example, in this 1957 photo taken in Watsonville, California, several Braceros are comparing their paychecks. The stubs were seldom written in Spanish and often did not include itemized deductions.
Braceros had limited ability to contest unfair treatment. They were far from home in a country where they did not speak the language and had few legal rights.
Their employers, on the other hand, often had considerable power especially in their local community given their familiarity with local laws and customs and personal relationships with law enforcement officers and judges.
[B-34 bomber image with word 'Macro' and image of Braceros reading checks with word 'Micro']
By studying both the macro and microeconomic implications of the Bracero Program, students will understand why the Program was initiated, who benefited from it, who was hurt, and how those benefits and costs for different groups eventually led to the end of the Program.
From the geography perspective, students can trace the paths of the Braceros as they traveled from Mexico to the United States.
A focus on geography can expand to discussions about push and pull factors, common routes and challenges of making the trip, and the role of social and information networks in Braceros’ decision making process. Students can also investigate how American attitudes toward Braceros might have varied in different parts of the country.
Useful primary sources can include maps, personal narratives, photographs and archival videos such as these, which depict workers loading their boxes, bags and luggage onto a bus as they prepare to travel to their designated destination.
[U.S. and Mexican flags display]
Students can also study the Bracero Program through a political lens. They can examine the political motivations of the United States and Mexico.
They can also learn about the policies enacted to support the program and the political efforts to promote the Bracero Program to each country’s citizens.
Instruction may include the political, economic and social impacts of the program during and after World War II and the reasons why individual Braceros chose to participate.
In this historical video, a representative from the Mexican government is speaking with a large group of prospective Braceros about the promise of working in the United States.
To make the Bracero Program more relatable to students’ lives, they should also learn about it through a social lens. For example, they may examine the living and working conditions of the Braceros, any discrimination they may have faced, and the efforts to improve the lives of Braceros.
An example of the Braceros’ living conditions can be found in these photos from a California Bracero camp in 1956. Workers endured cramped living quarters, including double-decker canvas beds in a shed-like building, and sub-standard showers that piped in cold water.
It is worth noting that American farm workers and Mexican Braceros were typically kept separate, which can provide important insight into the program and the general attitudes toward immigrant workers from a social perspective.
With this information, students could create a double diary entry showing multiple perspectives of the Bracero experience.
The experiences of the Braceros helped to shape the world we live in today.
To ensure that students have the most relevant experience possible, a comprehensive inquiry of the Bracero Program should focus on a compelling question, such as…
- What would it be like to be a person who participated in the Bracero Program?
- Was the Bracero Program fair to Mexican workers and U.S. workers?
- How can the history of the Bracero Program help us understand the issues of immigration and citizenship today?
- Would a program similar to the Bracero Program be possible today?
- What were the economic and cultural effects of the Bracero Program during and after World War II?
While students’ understanding and responses will vary in sophistication, depending on age, these compelling questions are effective with both the 4th and 11th grade students.
We hope this video has provided a helpful overview of the Bracero Program and has given you some tangible ideas about how to infuse it into your curriculum.
To find more resources for educators related to implementing California’s History-Social Science Framework, please visit the Content, Literacy, Inquiry, and Citizenship Project project website at: www.CaliforniaHSS.org.
Thank you to the Bracero History Archive for the use of their historic images and oral histories…
…and to the Library of Congress for the Rand McNally and Company map image.
…and to the Smithsonian Institute for the use of the Bracero fumigation image, which was photographed by Leonard Nadel, courtesy of the National Museum of American History.
The public domain video entitled “Why Braceros?,” produced by Wilding-Butler Division of Wilding, Inc., was the source of the various video clips used in this project.
Technical production of this video was performed by the Sacramento County Office of Education’s Internet and Media Services Department.