Today the flow of immigrant workers across the United States' southern border is a hot political and economic topic. But for more than two decades beginning during World War II, the federally-sponsored Bracero Program brought an estimated 4.6 million Mexican laborers to the U.S. to pick crops and build railroads.
That era comes to life in Bittersweet Harvest, a bilingual exhibit on display from August 17 through October 27, 2013, at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
The exhibition was organized by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH) and circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
Begun in 1942 as a temporary war measure to address labor needs in agriculture and the railroads, the Bracero Program ("bracero" means "one who works with his arms") 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.
The program was finally canceled in 1964.
Bittersweet Harvest examines the experiences of bracero workers and their families, providing rich insight into Mexican American history and background to today's debates on guest worker programs. It features powerful photographs and audio excerpts from oral histories contributed by former contract workers.
"The braceros experienced exploitation but also opportunity," according to NMAH curator Peter Liebhold. "The work was grueling, the time spent away from home difficult. But the opportunity to earn money was real. The program was truly bittersweet."
Admission is free. Free parking is available in the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.