Smithsonian Exhibit on Bracero Guest Worker Program Hosted by American Studies

The Smithsonian Institute has selected the Department of American Studies to be a host for its exhibit “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964.” The exhibit, which tells the story of Hispanic “bracero” workers, who were part of the largest guest worker program in U.S. history, will be at UA February 16-April 28 in the J. Wray and Joan Billingsley Pearce Foyer in Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library on the UA campus.

The program was named for the Spanish term bracero, “strong-arm,” and was enacted by a series of laws and diplomatic agreements between the United States and Mexico for the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States.

Through photographs and audio excerpts from oral histories, the exhibition examines the experiences of workers in the program, which was begun in 1942 to fill labor shortages caused by World War II in agriculture and the railroads. By the time the program ended in 1964 an estimated 4.6 million workers had been part of the program.

Two years ago, The Department of American Studies applied to be a site for the exhibit, which is organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The department was also awarded a Smithsonian Community Grant, funded by MetLife Foundation, to fund development and implementation of the exhibit.

According to Dr. Lynne Adrian, chair of the department, the exhibit will be used for community outreach purposes. Local schools will be invited to use materials provided by the Smithsonian as part of their curriculum.

Dr. Michael Innis-Jiménez, an assistant professor of American studies and coordinator for the exhibit, says the exhibit is significant for Latino populations in West Alabama, and he hopes it will help bring awareness to many of the issues that have been a part of Latino cultural history. The exhibit is bilingual in English and Spanish.

The exhibition will officially open when Dr. Mario Sifuentez, a professor at the University of California-Merced and one of the exhibit’s creators, lectures on the “History, Public Memory, and Creating the Bracero Archive” on Monday, February 18 at 6 p.m. in Gorgas Library, Room 205. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

For a listing of additional events associated with the Bittersweet Harvest exhibit, visit the American Studies website.