Migrant Workers

Upon crossing the bridge from Mexico, men were led through a makeshift booth, and sprayed with DDT by Department of Agriculture personnel.  Photograph by Leonard Nadel, 1956
Courtesy of Leonard Nadel Bracero Photograph Collection, Division of Work & Industry, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

The Bracero program was a guest worker initiative that spanned the years 1942-1964. The program stemmed from a shortage of labor needed for agriculture and railway maintenance, as many American men left the U.S. to fight in World War II. A treaty signed by the U.S. and Mexico in 1942 allowed Mexican workers to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis to fill the worker shortage. During this period, an estimated 4.6 million Mexican agricultural workers crossed the border under the program to work in more than half of the states in America. 

Many of these workers faced a range of abuses, including discrimination, poor living conditions and inadequate housing, and many were cheated out of their wages.

Bracero is a Spanish term which can be defined loosely as “one who works with his arms,” or as a close equivalent, a field hand.

The make-up of Hispanics/Latino subgroups in the U.S. is often misunderstood. Many assume that the majority of Latinos in the U.S. are foreign-born, when the actual proportion is about one-third. A very small proportion of Latinos are farm workers, and many farm workers are from other racial/ethnic groups.  The U.S. Census offers data on the population, including this report The Hispanic Population: 2010. (PDF)

Further Reading

Tribble, A. G., Summers, P., Chen, H., Quandt, S. A., & Arcury, T. A. (2016). Musculoskeletal Pain, Depression and Stress among Latino Manual Laborers in North CarolinaArchives of Environmental & Occupational Health71(6), 309–316.

Arcury, T. A., Nguyen, H. T., Summers, P., et al. (2014). Lifetime and Current Pesticide Exposure among Latino Farmworkers in Comparison to Other Latino ImmigrantsAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine57(7), 776–787. 

Newman, K. L., Leon, J. S., & Newman, L. S. (2015). Estimating occupational illness, injury, and mortality in food production in the United States: A farm-to-table analysisJournal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine57(7), 718–725.

Arcury, T. A., Trejo, G., Suerken, C. K., Grzywacz, J. G., Ip, E. H., & Quandt, S. A. (2015). Work and Health among Latina Mothers in Farmworker FamiliesJournal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine57(3), 292–299.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worker illness related to ground application of pesticide–Kern County, California, 2005. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2006 May 5;55(17):486-8.