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Dedicated in 2019, this monument in the center of Migrants Bend Plaza commemorates a group of legal immigrants who endured difficult living conditions after being recruited to the United States to work owing to labor shortages in World War II and beyond. Between the start of World War II and the end of the Bracero Program in the mid-1960s, over four million laborers came to the United States at the request of employers and with the support of government leaders. The monument portrays a male laborer in the center holding as well as his wife and child, a reference to the families of Braceros who often stayed behind. The monument is important to many Americans, as well as the descendants of laborers of Mexican descent because this chapter of history has seldom been acknowledged. The statue signifies the Braceros' contribution to the United States as they played a vital role in the country’s economic success during and after World War II.

The Bracero Monument was dedicated in 2019

Statue, Sculpture, Art, Performing arts

The Bracero program was created in 1942 because U.S. farm-owners believed that there would be labor shortages due to World War II. Therefore, Mexico and the United States agreed to a bi-national agreement that allowed the United States to import Mexican contract-based labor. The Mexican government agreed to send workers to the United States because it was seen as an alternative to Mexican participation in the Allied armed forces. Additionally, some scholars suggest that the Mexican government agreed to the Bracero program to curtail mass emigration. The Mexican government realized they could not prevent mass emigration so they wanted to regulate it. The United States began employing Braceros on September 27, 1942. The program was originally scheduled to end after World War II, but lasted till 1964. From 1948 to 1964, the United States imported an average of 200,000 Braceros a year. The Braceros primarily worked in the agricultural field, while some of them worked on the railroad.[1]

        Under the basic terms of the agreement, the Braceros were supposed to be paid at least an agreed-upon minimum wage (30¢ during the war and 50¢ throughout most of the 1950s). As farm laborers in Mexico, one would earn 65¢ a day while the average Bracero in Texas could be making 50¢ an hour. Although the Bracero wages weren’t enough to live in the U.S., they were significant raises from the wages in Mexico. This was the main reason many Mexicans wanted to become Braceros. However, many Bracero workers were paid less than the amount stipulated in the contract. Bernardo Blanco, the Mexican consul at McAllen, Texas estimates that over 50% of the contract workers were underpaid. He received six to seven complaints a day from Braceros that stated they were getting paid about 30¢-35¢ an hour rather than the contract rate of 50¢ an hour. The contract also stipulated that Braceros would be provided transportation, housing, food, repatriation, exemption from the American military, and protection from any form of discrimination. In exchange for their pay, the Braceros faced grueling 10 to 12-hour shifts that frequently required the use of a short-handled hoe, a tool that harms the back from excessive bending. Additionally, the Braceros were required to live in small aluminum houses. These sheds were overcrowded and distant from society. In the cold weather, the shelters lacked heat and during the heat, there was no air conditioning. The USES found deficiencies in about one-third to one-half of their housing inspections. Also, the food provided to the workers was minimal and lacked quality. The contracts were unable to be enforced due to federal agencies lacking resources to do their jobs. For instance, in Southern California, which had fifty thousand Braceros, the Department of Labor had six enforcement officers. Additionally, large farm growers would bribe the Solicitor's Office of the Labor Department and discipline small growers who abided by their contract, subjecting them to abnormal amounts of investigation.[2]

        Furthermore, the Bracero program encouraged more illegal immigration. In the agreement that Mexico made with the United States, Mexico did not want Braceros working in places such as Texas or Arkansas due to discrimination. Therefore, growers in these states resorted to illegal immigration. Also, more Mexicans wanted to become Braceros to pursue higher wages. The government did not have enough space for everyone, so Mexicans fled illegally to the United States. Additionally, undocumented immigration rose because of the Hart-Celler Law. This ended the racial quota system and launched a trend of restrictive immigration policies towards Mexico. The combined effects of the end of the Bracero program with this policy, heavily restricted pathways of legal entry, and led to a rise in undocumented immigration. The undocumented immigrants worked for 25¢ an hour, about two-thirds of the Bracero rate. The undocumented immigrants became associated with disease and crime, and were seen as dangerous human beings. The Americans started associating the negative connotations of undocumented migrants to the Braceros. In a 1951 study sponsored by George Sanchez, a social scientist, he states, “They [Braceros] are lumped together as Mexicans and the characteristics that are observed by among the wetbacks are by extension assigned to the local people.”[3]

 In 1994, in an effort to curtail illegal immigration and preserve state resources for legal citizens in California, Prop. 187 was proposed. This proposition planned to limit undocumented immigrants’ ability to access vital public sources. Many White, Asian and African Americans joined immigrants to protest the proposition. Although the proposition passed, it was still met with fierce opposition. Ultimately, the proposition never went into fruition as it was deemed “unconstitutional.” This proposition is seen to be the driving force for why California has changed political parties. The Latino Decisions, a public opinion group, states, “California Republicans embarked on an anti-immigration agenda that alienated Latino voters and drove them into the open arms of the Democratic Party.”[4]' The monument represents California’s change of political parties and the state’s different immigration rhetoric. Jose Huizar, a former LA city council member viewed this monument as a response to anti-immigration rhetoric made by right-wing politiciansleaders. “We’re now sending a message, [erection of the Bracero monument]" he stated, "you can have your rhetoric that is anti-immigrant…We’re moving forward as a city of immigrants[5].” The Bracero monument symbolizes the contributions of the Braceros and commemorates them, while also symbolizing the fight for immigrants as a whole, to be treated equally. Additionally, the monument signifies the importance of immigrants and Braceros throughout history. Dan Medina, the creator of the statue states, “Although many complain about the immigrant, if you look at history through the scope of honesty, we wouldn’t be here without their contributions.”[6]The monument displays a Bracero worker holding a short-handled hoe, that displays the grueling work each Bracero faced. On the left of the worker, the worker’s wife holds their son while the son is raising his arm towards his father displaying the separation that Braceros felt while away from their families. The Braceros were forced to separate from their families due to the government’s belief that there was a higher likelihood of Braceros migrating back to Mexico because of their loved ones. The monument commemorates immigrants as a whole, while also placing a direct focus on the Braceros.

[1] Hernandez, Kelly. “Mexican Immigration to the United States.” OAH Magazine of History. 26-27; Ngai, Mae. The Impossible Subjects. Princeton University Press. 138-141.

[2] Ngai,Mae. The Impossible Subjects. Princeton University Press.138-144.; Goodman, Adam. The Deportation Machine. Princeton University Press. 47-54.

[3] Ngai, Mae. The Impossible Subjects. Princeton University Press. 149, 147-152; Zepeda-Milan, Chris. Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CUP. 25-28.

[4] McDermott, Marie. 2020. “Why is California a Blue State?” New York Times, November 6, 2020.

[5] CNN Wire, 2019. “Los Angeles to Unveil Monument Honoring Bracero Migrants in Downtown.” KTLA 5 News, September 29, 2019.

[6] Tcheckmedyian, Alene. 2019. “Monument honoring ‘braceros,’ Mexican migrant workers, unveiled in downtown L.A.” Los Angeles Times.  September 29, 2019.

Acevedo, Nicole. 2019.“A former ‘bracero’; feels seen with new statue honoring immigrant labor’s hidden history.” NBC News, October 2, 2019. Accessed March 18, 2021.

CNN Wire, 2019. “Los Angeles to Unveil Monument Honoring Bracero Migrants in Downtown,” KTLA 5 News, September 29, 2019. Accessed March 15, 2021.

Goodman, Adam. The Deportation Machine: America's Long History of Expelling Immigrants. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2020. Accessed March 14, 2021. doi:10.2307/j.ctvs1g9p1.

Hernandez, Kelly Lytle. "Mexican Immigration to the United States." OAH Magazine of History 23, no. 4 (2009): 25-29. Accessed March 16, 2021.

Loza, Mireya. Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, and Political Freedom. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016. Accessed March 17, 2021.

McDermott, Marie. 2020. “Why is California a Blue State?” New York Times, November 6, 2020.Accessed March 17, 2021.

 Ngai, Mae. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America - Updated Edition. PRINCETON; OXFORD: Princeton University Press, 2004. Accessed March 18, 2021. doi:10.2307/j.ctt5hhr9r.

Tcheckmedyian, Alene. “Monument honoring ‘braceros,’ Mexican migrant workers, unveiled in downtown L.A.” Los Angeles Times.  September 29, 2019.

Zepeda-Milan, Chris. Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CUP. Accessed March 16, 2021.