Meet the Mexican Workers Who Helped Feed America During World War IIHistorians in the News
tags: agriculture, Bracero, Mexican American history, migrant labor
PORTLAND, Ore — In 1942, the United States and Mexico entered into a joint agreement that brought thousands of Mexican laborers into the states to address the agricultural labor shortage caused by World War II.
Known as the Bracero Program, named after the workers — bracero coming from the Spanish term for "one who works with their arms" — more than 15,000 Mexican men worked on Oregon farms from 1942 to 1947.
The contract workers proved to be vital for the greater war effort and helped sustain the agricultural production needed to keep the United States running.
We spoke with Portland State history professor Marc Rodriguez about the bracero experience in Oregon.
Editor's note: Some responses have been shortened for clarity.
Q: What was the Bracero Program and how did it begin?
Rodriguez: The Bracero Program was started in 1942 during a labor shortage in the United States as a result of World War II. And that was a bilateral agreement between Mexico and the United States to basically bring contracted workers into the country.
Braceros went to a lot of places where Mexican farm workers had really never traveled before in significant numbers. So they were going to places in the South like Arkansas and Louisiana, but they were also coming into states like Washington and Oregon and sugar beet harvesting in places like Montana and Wyoming.
And that really kind of created the kernel for a lot of the growth in the community that we would see in the 1960s, 70s and so on. And so a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest trace their roots back to those bracero workers.