"Mexican farm workers brought to the United States in accordance with the agreement between our two governments...are contributing their skill and their toil to the production of vitally needed food."
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
In 1943, President Roosevelt announced the creation of what would become the largest Mexican guest-worker program in U.S. history. "Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964," a bilingual (English/Spanish) traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution will explore this chapter of American History. The exhibition will be on display at UNC Charlotte's J. Murrey Atkins Library September 2 through November 12. An opening event on September 14 will feature guest speaker Mireya Loza, Smithsonian curator, and author of Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom.
Facing labor shortages on the home front during World War II, the United States initiated a series of agreements with Mexico to recruit Mexican men to work on American farms and railroads. The Emergency Farm Labor Program, more familiarly known as the Bracero Program, enabled approximately 2 million Mexicans to enter the United States and work on short-term labor contracts.
"SITES is deeply gratified to share with the nation a central part of American labor history of which so few are aware," said Myriam Springuel, interim director of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. "The story of bracero is rooted in hope and determination. It is a testament to the enduring contributions that Mexicans and Mexican Americans have made to American life."
The exhibition explores the braceros' contributions to communities in Mexico and the United States, the opportunities that became available to braceros and the challenges that they faced as guest workers during the war years and afterward. Included in the exhibition are 15 free-standing banners featuring oral histories, quotes and photographs by Leonard Nadel, a photographer who, in 1956, exposed employer violations endured by many braceros. The Nadel photos inspired the museum's work on "Bittersweet Harvest" and the Bracero History Project, which also includes audio clips of former braceros relating their experiences. The firsthand accounts were collected as part of the project's oral-history initiative.
Accompanying the exhibition is a website with transcripts, audio files of all of the oral histories, photos, essays, bibliographies and teaching resources. Developed by the Center for New Media at George Mason University, the website features a section where braceros and their families can contribute their own stories. The website is located at bracero.org.
"Bittersweet Harvest" is organized by the National Museum of American History and organized for travel by SITES. Funding is made possible through the Smithsonian's Latino Center, which celebrates Latino culture, spirit and achievement in America by facilitating the development of exhibitions, research, collections and education programs. For more information, visit latino.si.edu.
Programming surrounding the exhibit at Atkins Library was created in collaboration between faculty and instructors in the UNC Charlotte College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and librarians at Atkins. Funding for the programs is supported by Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and the Chancellor's Diversity Challenge Fund. More information about the exhibit, including programming and lesson plans, is at guides.library.uncc.edu/bittersweetharvest. The opening and closing receptions for the exhibit will feature guest speakers from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (NMAH) and the Wake Forest School of Medicine. The exhibit and programs will be open and free to the public.
SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for 65 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at sites.si.edu.
The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. After a two-year renovation and a dramatic transformation, the museum shines new light on American history, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, visit americanhistory.si.edu.