Oregon Experience: The Braceros

The Braceros’ Legacy

The Bracero program outlasted World War II, remaining in existence for more than 20 years afterward. Overall, the program was responsible for bringing five million farmworkers into the United States.

As Michael McGlade, a geography professor at Western Oregon University, noted, “Much of the mass movement to this region is linked to the Bracero-era recruitment. Well over half the field laborers in the valley can trace their migration back to someone recruited from that era.”

Click above to view images

The bracero workers established ties between their homes in Oregon and their childhood homes in Mexico that persist to this day. The braceros returned home with mostly positive reports about working in the Pacific Northwest, encouraging friends and relatives to seek work here. In time, many of these men returned to Oregon and had children whose birthright included full U.S. citizenship.

The WWII braceros also introduced Oregon growers to the Latino labor force, which the growers found to be hard-working, dependable and effective. After the war, Oregon farmers began to actively recruit Mexican and Mexican-American workers from Texas and elsewhere in the Southwest. And many of these workers, who often came with their families, also chose to make Oregon their home.

Click above to view image

“Now their grandchildren speak English as a first language — often, in fact, as an only language,” said Dan McGrath, an agriculture professor at Oregon State University. “They have become fully integrated into mainstream America.”

Click above to view images

Although the Bracero program has ended, the migration of farmworkers from impoverished rural Mexico continues. According to Employment Division data, Oregon had only 5,000 agricultural jobs in 1975. By 2000, Oregon's farm employment had shot up to 48,000. So legally or illegally — predominantly the latter, by most assessments — Mexican farmworkers continued to come to Oregon for employment throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s.

And they are still coming to Oregon today.

Click above to view image

Excerpted from “World wars shaped farmworker policy: The largest legal influxes of farmworkers came by wartime request,” April 23, 2005, by David Bates and Katie Willson of the News-Register.

Further Reading
OPB - The Oregon Story: Agricultural Workers
OSU Braceros in Oregon Photo Collection
About the Bracero Program
Learn how and why the program was established, and check out the actual provisions and clauses within the agreement.
The Daily Life of the Bracero
Find out about the day-to-day living conditions in the government labor camps.
The Braceros’ Legacy
Read about how the Bracero program helped establish today's Latino community in Oregon.

© 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting.