Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2014

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A look at the ‘Bittersweet’ Mexican guest worker program on display at the Springs Preserve

Image

Leonard Nadel, National Museum of American History

Guest workers being sprayed with pesticide.

The Details

Bittersweet Harvest
10 a.m.- 6 p.m. daily, through July 29, $9.95; $8.95 for seniors, students and military; $4.95 for children ages 5-17; free for children under 5, ticket prices extra for non-Nevada residents.
Springs Preserve Origen Museum, 822-7700.

As debate over immigration continues, the Las Vegas Springs Preserve brings in Bittersweet Harvest, an aptly titled Smithsonian exhibit on the Bracero guest worker program that imported around 2 million Mexican men to the United States between 1942 and 1964 to make up for the U.S. labor shortage.

The partnership with Mexico was designed to give U.S. employers, particularly in the agricultural and railroad industries, much needed cheap labor, while the Mexican government hoped it would infuse money into its economy when the men returned home with their paychecks.

Click to enlarge photo

Through photos, audio interviews and bilingual text, the exhibit offers a cursory glimpse into the controversial program that drew both criticism and praise on both sides of the border. Equally emphasized are the opportunities, exploitations, union concerns, protests from U.S. workers and the guest worker housing conditions. The program began as a response to the U.S. labor shortage during WWII. But undocumented laborers were also working in the country and in 1954, in the middle of the Bracero program, another government program titled Operation Wetback (literally), had officials rounding up and deporting those undocumented workers. That program, unfortunately, isn't part of Bittersweet Harvest. Instead, we have a very small, but important story of the larger narrative of America's relationship with its border country.

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