Historic Immigrant Labor Agreement Gets Its Due 75 Years On
The National Trust for Historic Preservation presents the first Bracero History Summit
Today, coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month, in partnership with The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), the National Trust for Historic Preservation kicked off the 2017 Bracero History Summit—the first ever gathering of leading scholars, curators, students, activists and community members to explore the enduring impact of the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement, better known as the Bracero Program. The two-day event, which marks the 75th anniversary of the first braceros admitted into the U.S., has brought more than two hundred attendees to El Paso to unearth the challenging and unheard stories of the immigrant experience that now serves as the founding link for modern Mexican-American communities.
“We’re excited to have brought together a group of groundbreaking researchers and thinkers with such a diverse and curious audience,” said Sehila Mota Casper, field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We think our attendees, especially those who trace their roots to their fathers' or grandfathers' entry into the U.S. as braceros, will find the summit to be a rewarding opportunity to share this emerging history. This exchange is crucial for the development of Bracero history, as well as the protection and stewardship of deeply significant Latino historical sites.”
In recent years, a resurgence of interest in the U.S. government’s Bracero Program, in effect from 1942–1964, has resulted in new analysis, discourse, cultural practice, and heritage work surrounding the program. Through a series of panel and roundtable discussions, study findings, museum exhibitions, and multi-media presentations, Bracero History Summit attendees are examining the roots and influence of the Bracero Program and considering a wide range of topics, including personal accounts from braceros and contemporary migrant farmworker narratives.
“The long-lasting influence of the Bracero Program on the patterns of migration, settlement and agricultural economy in the U.S. remains relatively unknown to most Americans,” said Dr. Yolanda Chávez Leyva, director of the Institute of Oral History and the Borderlands Public History Lab at UTEP. “The Bracero History Summit presents an opportunity to identify new research needs, make amends and bring to light the stories of the skilled Mexican guest-workers that helped shape America in the decades following World War II.”
The summit is part of the National Trust’s broader campaign to work with local partners to save and raise awareness of Rio Vista Farm—the last known standing bracero processing site. Located in Socorro, Texas, and named a National Treasure by the National Trust in 2016, Rio Vista Farm played an important role during the Bracero Program. From 1951 to 1964, the site was one of five reception centers along the U.S.-Mexico border, processing more than 80,000 braceros annually. Incoming guest-workers were met with medical and psychological examinations, stripped of their clothing, and fumigated with DDT before they could be evaluated by contractors and bused across the U.S. to be hired as farmworkers in any one of the dozens of participating states. In all, some 4.6 million border crossings were sponsored during the Bracero Program’s 22-year lifespan.
“Despite being the nation's largest experiment with guest workers, much has yet to be adequately documented and studied about the often-heartbreaking bracero story,” said Francisco Uviña, Interim Director of the Historic Preservation and Regionalism Graduate Program at the University of New Mexico and son of a surviving bracero processed at Rio Vista Farm. “We must tell the whole story of how our country traversed difficult moments, including historical narratives that challenge long-standing assumptions about our past. The stories of the Bracero Program, just like the stories of Japanese American internment camps, need to continue to come out of the shadows.”
The Bracero History Summit is hosted across The University of Texas at El Paso campus and concludes with an up-close tour at nearby Rio Vista Farm, which will bring attendees face-to-face with living braceros, as well as ongoing preservation efforts at the site.
Among the featured speakers are: Barbara Pahl, senior vice president of field services for the National Trust; Dr. Diana Natalicio, president of UTEP; Dr. Deborah Cohen, director of Latina/Latino Studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, author of Braceros: Migrant Citizens and Transnational Subjects in the Postwar United States and Mexico; Dr. Sarah Z. Gould, Latinos in Heritage Conservation; Stephen Velasquez, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, curator of the bilingual exhibition Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964; and Dr. Mireya Loza, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, author of the award-winning Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom.Financial support for the 2017 Bracero History Summit was provided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Fondren Fund for Texas, UTEP’s History Department, Museo Urbano, and Union Pacific Railroad. Additional support provided by the City of Socorro, Latinos in Heritage Conservation and the Smithsonian Institution.
For more on the 2017 Bracero History Summit, including detailed program information, visit: savingplaces.org/bracero-history-summit-2017.