La Gente: El Movimiento/The Movement

The Bracero Program

Photograph by Leonard Nadel

After the United States entered World War II, farms were left with a shortage of workers to harvest crops. The Bracero Program, Spanish for “one who works using his arms,” began in 1942 to solve the labor shortage.

The Bracero Program was in effect until 1964. It was a series of agreements that imported temporary workers from Mexico during the harvest to work in fields and farms in order to combat the labor deficit. The work was extremely physically demanding. Agreements set the workers’ wages and aimed to protect them from discrimination, though Mexicans still were certainly mistreated and underpaid.

Photograph by Leonard Nadel

Braceros were recruited in Mexico and then transported across the border by bus or train. Most were young, unmarried men. They lived in labor camps during the harvest and were expected to return to Mexico after the harvest. From 1948 to 1964, the U.S. imported on average 200,000 braceros per year.

Antonio Esquibel family on beet harvester, Lamar, 1948.

In Colorado, the Bracero Program primarily focused on the sugar beet and lettuce fields in the north. Several thousand braceros were brought into Colorado in the spring, worked until after the harvest in the late fall and then returned to Mexico. For example, The U.S. Department of Agriculture established a farm labor camp for braceros in Fort Lupton, Colorado, where 235 laborers lived while working on farms in Fort Collins, Eaton, Greeley, Longmont, and Brighton.