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Smithsonian exhibit on braceros comes to UTPA
By Jennifer Berghom, Public Affairs Representative
(956) 665-7192
Posted: 02/15/2012
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Source: The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service

The University of Texas-Pan American is bringing an almost forgotten part of the Rio Grande Valley's history to campus to honor braceros.

UTPA's Mexican American Studies (MAS) program received $2,500 from a donor to bring the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 to the University as part of its overall project to commemorate this part of our country's history and its significance to the South Texas region.

"Our region currently has one of the largest concentrations of braceros and migrant farm workers in the nation. These hardworking Mexicans and Mexican Americans deserve to see their heritage honored and represented as part of migration and labor history in a permanent and visible way accessible to all," said Dr. Stephanie Alvarez, director of the MAS program, Cosecha Voices and an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Bittersweet Harvest will be on display at the UTPA Visitor's Center from Feb. 18-April 29, 2012.

The bilingual exhibit tells the story of the braceros, Mexican nationals who came to the United States through an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments to work on short-term labor contracts on farms during peak harvest and cultivation times. The exhibit includes 15 freestanding banners with photographs, as well as written and recorded interviews with the farm workers and their families.

The bracero program was the largest guest worker program in U.S. history, bringing millions of Mexican nationals to the country. The work was backbreaking and the living conditions were poor, but the program provided workers economic opportunities.

"Our state did not initially participate in the bracero program because of the restrictions on how guest workers would be treated," Alvarez said. "Instead, many Texas growers hired undocumented workers for cheaper wages, and some growers lobbied through the American Farm Bureau Federation to weaken the official agreement and make it more advantageous for the growers. Many of the legal and cultural issues that characterized the bracero program continue to be significant in South Texas today with the labor of migrant farm workers."

In addition to the exhibit, students in the MAS and Cosecha Voices programs, as well as from other programs and organizations, raised money to bring down a muralist from Austin to work with UTPA students to create a mural honoring the braceros and the Valley migrant farm workers. The mural will be painted in San Juan.

Alvarez and Dr. Francisco Guajardo, associate professor of educational leadership in the College of Education, are coordinating a bracero oral history project that will culminate in a book and a Bracero Symposium April 20 and 21 where living braceros will be honored.

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Exhibit hours are 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.