On September 12, 2023, Monterey County Supervisor Luis A. Alejo and Supervisor Chris Lopez formally recognized Dr. Ignacio Ornelas Rodriguez’s efforts to educate the public about the Bracero Program. During the ceremony in Monterey County, former bracero workers were also formally recognized for their contributions to the agricultural industry and economy of the United States from the early years of the U.S. involvement in World War II.
Ornelas Rodriguez noted,
The Bracero Program was a series of laws that allowed the United States to recruit temporary guest workers (braceros, lit. “individuals who work with their arms”) from Mexico. As the United States entered World War II, its agriculture and railroad industries witnessed a shortage of laborers due to the U.S. military draft and the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast of the United States. The United States and Mexico entered into legal agreements that would ultimately be known as the Bracero Program, which operated from 1942 to 1964. Braceros worked throughout the United States, but the largest concentration of braceros was employed in California. There were an estimated 4.5 million contracts signed by braceros over the 22-year period. Today a large proportion of the Mexican American population can trace its heritage to former braceros.
KSBW 8 reporter Brisa Colón (photo above, courtesy Ignacio Ornelas Rodriguez) reported that “History was made Tuesday, in Monterey County. It was the first time bracero workers were recognized with a dedicated week to honor their contributions. Never before have the workers been recognized at this level by the county for their contributions to the agricultural industry and economy in the United States.”
As part of the ceremony, there was also an acknowledgement of the 1963 bus crash that occurred on Highway 101 in Chualar, an areas of Salinas Valley, California. The bus collided with a train and claimed the lives of 32 braceros and injured many other braceros and farm laborers. It is still the single deadliest crash in California history and one of the worst in the nation. In 2013, Ornelas Rodriguez was instrumental in the naming of a portion of Highway 101 as the Bracero Memorial Highway in honor of the braceros who lost their lives.
Ornelas Rodriguez also focused his PhD dissertation on the Bracero Program and currently works as a lecturer at the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford (CCSRE) and trains and collaborates with educators to implement the ethnic studies curriculum in the San Jose Unified School District. He continues to conduct research and share the history and legacy of the Bracero Program through his teaching and public outreach through the Bracero Legacy Project he founded at Stanford.
I feel a strong emotional connection to the Bracero Program, as I grew up and worked with braceros from the 1950s to 1964. I wish that there were a way for me to reunite with the braceros with whom I worked.
Fortunately, during the ceremony, SPICE had the honor—through Ornelas Rodriguez—of offering each bracero in attendance a certificate from SPICE as a very modest acknowledgement of their hard work. Former bracero Josafat Arias, depicted above (photo courtesy Ignacio Ornelas Rodriguez), noted, “I accept this certificate on behalf of the over one million braceros whose lives continue to impact the Salinas area, California, and beyond.”
After the ceremony, Ornelas Rodriguez, whose grandfather was a bracero, shared that events like the one in Monterey County are important not only because of the recognition offered to the former braceros but also because they empower young descendants of former braceros to do well academically. “School-age descendants are given the chance to reflect on the bracero journey, consider how far descendants of former braceros have come, and appreciate the endless possibilities that lie ahead of them.”
For more information about the Bracero Legacy Project, visit https://www.facebook.com/BRACEROLEGACY/.