The Legacy of the Braceros
By Robin Shepherd with Mario Banuelos
Every spring , we commemorate activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta for their remarkable contributions to the Farm Labor Movement by fighting for fair labor practices and civil rights .
Chavez passed away in 1993 , but Huerta , now 93 , continues her advocacy work with the same passion as she had in the 1960s . This is fortunate because the need for advocacy persists .
Today , as much as 50 percent of all farmworkers in the U . S . work in California , and 75 percent of California ’ s farmworkers are undocumented . The lion ’ s share of our migrant farm workers are natives of Mexico . Their ongoing struggle is a stark reminder of our historic failure to do right by the people whose labor in our fields still puts food on our tables today .
Between 1910 and 1929 , the Mexican Revolution created unrest , poverty and displacement in that country . Meanwhile , Europe was caught up in World War I and European migration to the U . S . declined , creating demand for farm and railroad labor here at home . Immigrants from Mexico filled the void as temporary guest workers during the first Bracero Program (“ Bracero ” comes from the Spanish word brazo , or arm , referring to manual labor ).
During the Great Depression of the 1930s , loss of jobs and economic collapse in the U . S . triggered deportation and repatriation of these Braceros to Mexico .
By the early 1940s , America had become embroiled in World War II and American farm workers left their farms to serve in the military or fill new industrial jobs to support the war
effort . The U . S . government responded to the bombing of Pearl Harbor by forcing Japanese American citizens , many of them farmers , into internment camps . To keep our agricultural economy running we turned once again to Mexico .
In 1942 , U . S . and Mexican government leaders negotiated the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement , followed by the Migrant Labor Agreement ( enacted into Public Law 78 in 1951 ). The Bracero Program was reinstated and Mexican men were once again recruited as temporary guest workers to harvest U . S . crops . Agreement terms included specific provisions for fair wages , housing , food , transportation and health care . The Mexican government ’ s hope was that workers would gain new skills and earn wages in America that they would bring back to Mexico and help stimulate their economy .
According to Mario Banuelos , President-Elect of Morgan Hill Rotary Club , a board member of the Morgan Hill Community Foundation , and this year ’ s recipient of the Leadership Excellence ( LEAD ) award from Leadership Morgan Hill , “ Immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere had heard for years that America was the land of the
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