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News Release — February 15, 2011

Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program

The Wittliff Collections present “Bittersweet” Struggle of the Bracero
in Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition

Exhibition on view February 25 – April 29, 2011
Opening Reception + Program at 6:30 p.m., February 25

SAN MARCOS, Texas—In 1943, President Roosevelt announced the creation of what would become the largest Mexican guest-worker program in U.S. history. Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964, a bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibition created by the National Museum of American History and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), explores this chapter of American history. The exhibition, which is traveling to museums around the country on a two-year, multicity tour, is co-sponsored at Texas State University-San Marcos by the Wittliff Collections and the Public History Program. It will be on view at the Wittliff Collections on the seventh floor of the university’s Alkek Library from February 25 through April 29, 2011.

Friday, February 25, the public is invited to the 6:30 p.m. opening reception which will feature a talk by Kristine Navarro-McElhaney, director of the Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas at El Paso. Admission to both the exhibition and event is free and open to the public. (More information is below.)

Facing labor shortages on the home front during World War II, the United States initiated a series of agreements with Mexico to recruit Mexican men to work on American farms and railroads. The Emergency Farm Labor Program, more familiarly known as the Bracero Program, enabled approximately two million Mexicans to enter the United States and work on short-term labor contracts.

The exhibition explores the braceros’ contributions to communities in Mexico and the United States, the opportunities that became available to them, and the challenges they faced as guest workers during the war years and afterward. Included in the exhibition are 15 freestanding banners featuring oral histories, quotes and photographs by LEONARD NADEL, a photojournalist who, in 1956, exposed employer violations endured by many braceros. The Nadel photos inspired the museum’s work on Bittersweet Harvest and the Bracero History Project, which also includes audio clips of former braceros relating their experiences. The firsthand accounts were collected as part of the project’s oral-history initiative.

“The Bittersweet Harvest exhibition is a timely reminder of how easily the powerful stories of even the recent past can be quickly lost and of the imperative to capture these histories for the future,” said Dr. Lynn Denton, director of Texas State’s Public History Program, co-sponsor of the exhibition. “Equally important, this collaboration with the Wittliff Collections has allowed us to bring the first Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition to the Texas State Campus.”

More about the guest worker experience can be found at the Bracero History Archive online, including transcripts, audio files of all of the oral histories, photos, essays, bibliographies, and teaching resources. Developed by the Center for New Media at George Mason University, the website features a section where braceros and their families can contribute their own stories.


The Bittersweet Harvest opening reception on Friday, February 25 will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Wittliff Collections, on the seventh floor of the Alkek Library at Texas State University-San Marcos. A program at 7:00 p.m. will feature guest speaker KRISTINE NAVARRO-McELHANEY, director of the Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas at El Paso. Admission is free.

Ms. Navarro-McElhaney’s talk, co-sponsored by the Public History Program, is part of a two-day symposium called “Immigrant America” organized and co-sponsored by Texas State’s Department of History and the Center for the Study of the Southwest. The symposium will focus on the history and future of immigration in Texas and the Southwest, especially Hispanic immigration and how it has shaped our society and the implications it holds for the future. Contact 512.245.2142 for further info about the symposium.

KRISTINE NAVARRO-McELHANEY is the Director of the Institute of Oral History (IOH) at UTEP. During her tenure, IOH has greatly expanded its scope of work and significantly elevated the center’s visibility through key projects and partnerships, including the Bracero History Archive Project, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, Brown University, and George Mason University. Through this collaborative, UTEP has amassed the single largest collection of bracero-related oral histories in existence today. Navarro-McElhaney is co-author of Wheresoever My People Chance to Dwell: African American Women in the Southwest (Black Classic Press), as well as of the upcoming Bracero Memories (UT Press).

Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 was created by the National Museum of American History and organized for travel by SITES. Funding is made possible with Federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool administered by the Smithsonian’s Latino Center, which celebrates Latino culture, spirit and achievement in America by facilitating the development of exhibitions, research, collections and education programs.