Researching the Bracero Program and Associated Labor Camps

Hello from San Francisco! My preliminary research on properties associated with NPS heritage initiatives has been ongoing throughout my internship. While I have found good leads, I have also identified significant stories and aspects of U.S. history that sadly might no longer have an extant site with sufficient integrity for formal designation. This week I came across an excellent example to share with you all. The example I’m sharing is that of “Labor Camp site/s linked to the U.S. Bracero Program,” which ran from 1942-1964. The potential property would be associated to the Latino Heritage Initiative under the themes of immigration, labor, discrimination/exclusion/social justice, and community/culture. The Bracero Program is a significant component of Mexican immigration, farm, and farm labor history in the U.S. It was the largest and most significant guest worker program of the twentieth century. In response to the demand for male laborers during the WWII years, the U.S. formed an agreement with Mexico in 1942 to create a guest worker program called the Emergency Farm Labor Agreement, more commonly known as the Bracero Program. The agreement, which lasted 22 years, had Mexican farm workers enter and work in the U.S. legally for limited amounts of time. The Emergency Farm Labor Agreement had a permanent effect on the U.S. economy. During the program, more than four million Mexicans worked in California. Many Mexican laborers seeking better wages flooded border towns in hopes of obtaining labor contracts. Those unable to cross the border with a contract crossed the border illicitly and were still able to obtain work. The estimated ratio of unauthorized workers to contracted braceros nationally in the 1940s to the 1960s was at least 2:1. Since immigration under the Bracero Program was not meant to be permanent, the immigrants’ settlement patterns were temporary at first. The farmers hiring the laborers were usually responsible for bracero housing, which was mostly substandard and located adjacent to work sites. Some workers’ camps took the form of tent cities in fields, vacant barns, and abandoned hotels. Workers who stayed after their contracts expired settled in areas where they could find work. As time went on, most immigrants settled and worked in cities, rather than on farms. Preliminary research revealed that the first 500 braceros were sent to Stockton to work on sugar beet farms, however there is no known extant bracero camp in Stockton that dates to the period of significance (1942-1960s). Other known bracero camps in California have been razed and/or redeveloped. For this reason, more in-depth research will be needed to possibly identify any extant historic labor camps with sufficient integrity to convey their national significance. Unfortunately, due to the construction and age of this building type, it is unlikely that an intact example still exists. Knowing this, we established next steps for this property type by identifying scholars and historians that have conducted in-depth research on early farm worker housing, as they may be able to aid in further research and integrity verification for such sites. Conducting preliminary research on the Bracero Program and camps provided me a small window to my family’s history. My dad and several of his male cousins were among the many young braceros looking for work in the U.S. in the early 1960s. They were migrant laborers that traveled back and forth from California’s agriculture centers to their home state of Jalisco in Mexico for several years before they ultimately settled in several communities within California. As you can imagine, my research and internship experience has been fulfilling, in more ways than one. The United States has so many immigrant stories to tell, I hope to bring light to these stories through my work in heritage conservation.

1 Comment
  • Sal
    Posted at 10:42h, 18 September

    I grow up in one. Until about 1962

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