Story 37: Braceros, Then and Now
July 9, 2018
The Bracero Program grew out of a series of bi-lateral agreements between Mexico and the United States allowing millions of Mexican men to come to the United States to work on short-term, primarily agricultural labor contracts.
From 1942 to 1964, more than 4.5 million contracts were signed, with many individuals returning multiple times, making it the largest U.S. contract labor program ever.
Initiated because of farm labor shortages caused by entry into World War II, the Bracero program brought Mexican workers to replace American workers dislocated by the war. The program was intended to be temporary, but a growing dependence of American farms on Mexican labor kept it going for nearly two decades after the war ended.
Braceros paid a monthly fee to stay in the housing camps near the farms they worked at. The camps they lived in were often deteriorating and were not well kept.
Eden’s Camphora Apartments, located in Soledad, was once a run-down labor camp. Now 44 farmworker families call Camphora home. Residents benefit from free internet access, an on-site computer lab and a variety of on-site, free resident services programs.
Pictured here are Simon Salinas, Monterey County District 3 Supervisor and Ignacio Ornelas, Bracero Legacy Project co-founder at the grand opening celebration for Camphora Apartments in 2016, honoring the men before them.
Today California produces over 350 commodities; including 1/3 of the nation’s vegetables and nearly 2/3 of the nation’s fruits and nuts. California produces 90% of the strawberries grown in the U.S.
Many braceros didn’t benefit from going to college, however, their children and grandchildren have gone on to college, becoming politicians, doctors, academics and artists. They have choices, thanks to the hard work and passion of those before them. Rosa, a resident from Eden’s Nuevo Amanecer Apartments in Watsonville, is one example.
Rosa, a multi-year awardee of Eden’s Howard T. Collins Scholarship shares that “Because my mother was a single mother raising 2 daughters, she worked from sunup to sundown in the strawberry fields in order to be able to provide for us… Given our financial status, never in a thousand years would my mother even begin to imagine, that her daughter would grow up to attend the University of Southern California.”
Laura, From Lincoln Square Apartments shares “My dad is a strawberry picker…he has been working as a strawberry picker for over 20 years…he is my motivation, he inspires me to become a well-educated person.” Laura is the first in her family to attend and graduate from college. She plans to work in health administration and wants to represent her community well.
Eden Owns and Manages 10 farmworker housing communities (6 pictured here) across Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Our residents work hard every day to put food on all of our tables, and contribute so much to our state’s economy.