Do a Google search of braceros and you’ll find a picture of a line of shirtless young men being sprayed with DDT as they pass through a gate of a farm labor intake center. In another photo, naked men are lined up in a large room being inspected by men in white coats. The photos tell a story the name bracero (from the word brazos, or arms) itself implies.
When the U.S. and Mexico made an agreement to bring up hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers under the Bracero program to supply essential labor for a country at war in 1942 the bracero was neither regarded, nor treated as a human being, but as an instrument of production.
Most were Mexican farmers and rural workers whose economic situation was precarious in a country plundered by foreign businesses and dominated by domestic and foreign landowners who controlled almost all the good land.
From 1942 to 1964, bracero workers did a large part of the work on farms from California to Texas and beyond. They were welcomed as laborers in a time of dire need – a welcome that extended to the length of their “contracts”, usually six months, or to the end of the harvest. Once the crops were in, braceros became criminals and were hunted down and deported as such, if they did not leave quickly enough on their own.
I was thinking about this while working at a El Paso refugee center, and as the immigrants, the large majority indigenous Guatemalan…