The University of Alabama

Smithsonian Exhibit on U.S.’s Largest Guest Worker Program Opens at UA

Foster_50_logo.eh.2cTUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama was selected as one of the only two sites in the Southeast to host the Smithsonian traveling exhibition, “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964,” which tells the story of the largest guest worker program in U.S. history.

UA’s department of American studies is hosting the bilingual exhibit, which will be on display Feb. 16-April 28 in the J. Wray and Joan Billingsley Pearce Foyer in Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library, second floor, on the UA campus.

The exhibit is free and open to the public.

Through photographs and audio excerpts from oral histories, the exhibition examines the experiences of workers in the Bracero program, which was begun in 1942 to fill labor shortages caused by World War II in agriculture and the railroads. By the time the program was ended in 1964, an estimated 4.6 million workers had been part of the program.

The program was named for the Spanish term bracero, “strong-arm,” and was enacted by a series of laws and diplomatic agreements between the United States and Mexico for the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States.

Two years ago, UA’s department of American studies applied to be a site for the exhibit, which is organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The department was also awarded a Smithsonian Community Grant, funded by MetLife Foundation, to fund development and implementation of the exhibit.

According to Dr. Lynne Adrian, chair of the American studies department, the exhibit will be used for community outreach purposes. Local schools will be invited to use materials provided by the Smithsonian as part of their curriculum.

Dr. Michael Innis-Jiménez, an assistant professor of American studies and coordinator for the exhibit, says the exhibit is significant for Latino populations in West Alabama, and he hopes it will help bring awareness to many of the issues that have been a part of Latino cultural history. The exhibit is bilingual in English and Spanish.

This exhibit is part of “Through the Doors,” a year-long series of activities and events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of UA in 1963 and honoring the courage and dedication of the two African American students who enrolled in the University on June 11, 1963 as well as the University’s ongoing commitment to change over the past 50 years and its commitment to continued progress in the future.

The exhibition will officially open when Dr. Mario Sifuentez, a professor at the University of California-Merced and one of the exhibit’s creators, lectures on the “History, Public Memory, and Creating the Bracero Archive” on Monday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in Gorgas Library, room 205. The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

Two other public events will be held in conjunction with the exhibit. Dr. Mireya Loza, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana will give the lecture, “I Was a Bracero: Indigeneity, Race, and the Bracero Program” on April 15 at 6:30 p.m.in room 205 of Gorgas Library. Dr. Mike Amezcua, Northwestern University, will deliver the lecture, “In the Business of Braceros: Pageants and Products for Mexican Workers in Mid-Twentieth Century Chicago” on April 16 at 2 p.m. in Room 330 of Lloyd Hall.

Hours for the exhibit are Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. During the week of March 22-31, hours will be altered in observance of UA’s spring break. The exhibit will be closed March 23, 24 and March 30. The exhibit will be open Friday, March 22 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, March 25-29 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 31 4-10 p.m.

In addition to the American studies department, the exhibition is co-sponsored by UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, UA’s Graduate School, UA’s School of Social Work the Summersell Center for the Study of the South, New College, and the department of history and the department of gender and race studies.

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service has shared Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history.

MetLife Foundation, established by MetLife insurance company, provides corporate support for community activities. Grants are made to support health, educational, civic and cultural organizations and programs through inclusive programming.

The department of American studies is part of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.