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The Bracero Program

Questions to Consider

Why did the US government sponsor Mexican workers during World War II?

Were Mexican workers eager to take part in the Bracero Program?

How did the Braceros travel to the United States?

About the images

These images show the first waves of Mexican workers traveling to California as part of the Bracero Program (1942-1964). They were headed for California’s fields to replace agricultural workers who had joined the armed services.

Overview

The government-sponsored Bracero Program was the temporary importation of workers from Mexico to aid the American agricultural economy. This was an important historical event that many Americans are unaware of today. A bracero (from brazo, the Spanish word for arm) was a Mexican worker allowed entry into the United States for a limited time, usually to work on a farm. In 1942, facing an extreme shortage of farm labor workers due to the war, Congress enacted the Emergency Labor Program. It approved the temporary immigration of thousands of Mexican workers to replace the American men who were in the armed services. During the 22 years of the Bracero Program, more than 4 million Mexican workers left their families behind and came to work in the fields of California. This migration had an enormous and lasting impact on the economy and demographics of California.

The photograph "Battle for Work" shows hundreds of Mexican workers waiting at the border to be selected for the Bracero Program. The contrast between Mexico and the United States at this time is shown in the photograph of the dusty streets of Mexicali in "Street Scene of Mexicans Awaiting Legal Employment in the United States" and "View from Mexicali Toward the United States." Many Mexican workers were eager to be selected for the Bracero Program. "Battle for Work" shows hundreds of Mexican workers massed at the border, hoping to be chosen.

Some of the images in this group show the arrival of the first braceros by train. Some of these photographs were taken by photographer Dorothea Lange as part of a government assignment to document this event.

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade 4:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade 11:

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.4 Write historical investigation reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.
2.4 Delivery multimedia presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade 4:

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s. (4.4.5)

Grade 11:

11.7 Students analyze America's participation in World War II.
11.8 Students analyze the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II America. (11.8.2)

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts. Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

First Braceros – man sticking out train window, ca. 1942 First Braceros – men getting off the train, ca. 1942 Braceros – men gathered with arms around each other, ca. 1942
Mexican migrant worker, portrait, 1942 Mexican migrant workers travel by train to Los Angeles (Calif.), 1942 Mexican migrant workers travel by train to Los Angeles (Calif.), 1942
Mexican workers await legal employment in the United States, Mexicali (Mexico), February 3, 1954 Mexican workers receive health check before entering the United States, Mexicali (Mexico), January 27, 1954 Mexican worker obtains legal entry into the United States, Mexicali (Mexico), February 8, 1954
Street scene of Mexicans awaiting legal employment in the United States, Mexicali (Mexico), January 31, 1954 Mexican workers await legal employment in the United States, Mexicali (Mexico), January 7, 1954 Mexican migrant workers disembark in Los Angeles (Calif.), 1942
View from Mexicali (Mexico) toward the United States, February 7, 1954

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)

Who was Dorothea Lange?

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), a great American photographer, is perhaps best known for her photographs of Dust Bowl migrants during the Great Depression.

General note about Lange’s images

Due to the limits of technology and the scanning process used, the digitized versions of Dorothea Lange’s photographs in some cases do not accurately represent the high quality of the original images.