The Bracero Program

The government-sponsored Bracero Program was the temporary importation of workers from Mexico to aid the American agricultural economy. More than 4 million Mexican workers left their families behind and came to work in the fields of California. Read full overview

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.

Read full exhibition overview

Note about image quality

A few of the images in this exhibition--most notably, the photographs taken by Dorothea Lange--do not accurately represent the high quality of the original images. This is due to the technology available at the time they were scanned. We hope to have new versions of the photographs available soon.

About this exhibition: