Mexican “Guest Worker” Program Established

1942 — 1964

United States

Discrimination & Inequity Labor & Economy Migrations

In 1942, the United States and Mexico created the Bracero Program, facilitating low-paying temporary Mexican laborers to work in the southern United States. The “guest worker” program was popular in the agriculture industry and remained in place until 1964. In total, more than five million Mexicans entered the United States as braceros, a Spanish word that loosely translates to mean someone who works as a field hand. Labor and human rights abuses abounded under this program. Before being allowed to cross the border, workers were stripped, examined, and sprayed with “white powder,” also known as DDT, to kill lice. Once across the border, many were forced to live in camps, work seven days a week during harvest season, and forgo pay during slow months. Exploitive conditions also led to Bracero activism, most notably in the Northwest.
The United Farm Workers labor union rose to prominence shortly after the end of the Bracero program in 1966, under the leadership of César Chávez, Gilbert Padilla and Dolores Huerta.