UCLA Labor Center

The Bracero Program

Bracero History Archive

bracero1The Bracero Program, which brought millions of Mexican guest workers to the United States, ended more than four decades ago. Current debates about immigration policy-including discussions about a new guest worker program-have put the program back in the news and made it all the more important to understand this chapter of American history. Yet while top U.S. and Mexican officials re- examine the Bracero Program as a possible model, most Americans know very little about the program, the nation’s largest experiment with guest workers. Indeed, until very recently, this important story has been inadequately documented and studied, even by scholars. Learn more about the Bracero History Archive.

The Bracero Program grew out of a series of bi-lateral agreements between Mexico and the United States that allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the United States to work on, short-term, primarily agricultural labor contracts. From 1942 to 1964, 4.6 million contracts were signed, with many individuals returning several times on different contracts, making it the largest U.S. contract labor program. An examination of the images, stories, documents and artifacts of the Bracero Program contributes to our understanding of the lives of migrant workers in Mexico and the United States, as well as our knowledge of, immigration, citizenship, nationalism, agriculture, labor practices, race relations, gender, sexuality, the family, visual culture, and the Cold War era.

Personal Narratives

The Bracero narratives provide first-hand insight to the implications of the ‘guest-worker’ program, challenges experienced, and the formation of their migrant identity. Bracero Stories explores the personal experiences of five former “guest workers” in the controversial U.S.-Mexican bracero program, which granted temporary work contracts to several million Mexican laborers between 1942 and 1964. Their stories are interwoven and illustrated with archival materials, creating a composite narrative of the “bracero” experience. Interviews with other participants in the program assess its effectiveness and lasting impact. These discussions mirror and inform current debates about immigration and the role of imported labor in our economic development.

NPR logo Listen to Personal Narratives on NPR       pbsvideo logo  Watch PBS – Bracero Stories

Browse Images

You can learn more about migrant history through various image collections.  For example, the “Battle for Work” photograph shows hundreds of Mexican workers waiting at the border to be selected for the Bracero Program.  Some of the images show the arrival of the first braceros by train, and some of these photographs were taken by photographer Dorothea Lange as part of a government assignment to document this event.

Additional Resources