Skip to main content

Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964: Exhibit and Program

This is an online educational guide including resources and lesson plans that will help you integrate the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition and program into your curriculum.

The Bracero Program

Begun in 1942 as a temporary war measure to address labor needs in agriculture & the railroads, the bracero program eventually became the largest guest worker program in U.S. history. Small farmers, large growers, & farm associations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, & 23 other states hired Mexican braceros to provide manpower during peak harvest & cultivation times. By the time the program was canceled in 1964, an estimated 4.6 million contracts had been awarded.


Photos by Leonard Nadel/National Museum of American History

Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964, a moving new bilingual exhibition organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) & circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), examines the experiences of bracero workers & their families, providing rich insight into Mexican American history & historical background to today’s debates on guest worker programs. Consisting of 15 freestanding, illustrated banners, the exhibition combines recent scholarship, powerful photographs from the Smithsonian’s collection, & audio excerpts from oral histories contributed by former contract workers.

The exhibit will be on display from September 2 - November 12, 2017 on the first floor of Atkins Library at UNC Charlotte near the New Books Reading Area, Research Help Desk, & Guest Computers.

Getting to Atkins Library:

Parking (Cone Visitor Deck) & Map of Atkins Library


All exhibit programs are free & open to the public! 

The following program was created in collaboration between faculty & instructors in the UNC Charlotte College of Liberal Arts & Sciences & librarians at Atkins Library.  Funding for the program is supported by Atkins Library, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, & the Chancellor's Diversity Challenge Fund.

Mireya LozaOpening Talk & Reception
September 14 at 5:30 p.m.
Location: Halton Reading Room, Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte

Featuring guest speaker, Mireya Loza, Smithsonian curator, & author of Defiant Braceros: How Migrant Workers Fought for Racial, Sexual, & Political Freedom. This talk will begin at 6:15 p.m.

Campus & local community organizations will be featured at the event from 5:30-6:15 during the reception.

Personal Digital Archiving Workshop
October 4 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Location: Atkins 125, Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte

Your friends at Atkins Library Special Collections & University Archives have scheduled a special workshop on digital archiving -- open to everyone but especially geared toward the social justice community. Our goal is to offer you a few basic strategies for personally saving your important photos, videos, documents, messages, social media posts, blogs, websites, etc. from accidental (or malicious!) loss.

We invite you to come & take the opportunity to meet with others to talk about what you want to preserve & why it's important to do so -- for your own sake, & for the historical record. A team of archivists & a legal expert will be on h& to give you some basic information you can take with you.

Book of Unknown Americans cover photoAuthor Talk
October 12
Location: UNC Charlotte

Cristina Enríquez, author of the selected text for the 2017 UNC Charlotte Common Reading experience, The Book of Unknown Americans, will be visiting the UNC Charlotte campus.

This visit is organized by the Common Reading selection committee.

Film Screening: The Guestworker
October 16, 2-3 p.m.
Location: Visualization Lab (2nd Floor), Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte

When President Bush & some members of Congress proposed guest worker programs as part of new immigration reform legislation, it was as though nothing like this had existed before. Yet since 1986, thousands of Mexican men have legally entered the United States to work here, because of the little known H-2A guestworker program, put in effect during the Reagan years. Filmed on both sides of the border, the documentary chronicles the life of such farm-workers while looking at the issues surrounding the program. The film focuses on a 66-year-old Mexican farmer, Candelario Moreno Gonzales, who works on the tobacco, cucumber & pepper fields of the Western Farms in North Carolina.

Trailer: The Guestworker

Photo of Isael MejiaTalk with Isael Mejia from the Latin American Coalition (La Coalición)
October 23 at 5:30 p.m.
Location: Halton Reading Room, Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte

Isael Mejia is the Economic Mobility Center Manager for the Latin American Coalition (La Coalición) & a UNC Charlotte alumnus. Isael is a proponent of Social Justice & was introduced to the concept of social advocacy through his participation in LASO (Latin American Student Organization) & The Feminist Union at UNC Charlotte.   Isael is a first-generation American & college graduate who came to the United States as an undocumented youth.  He is involved in Labor rights education & advocacy & is focused on establishing the first Day laborer (jornalero) center in Charlotte.  Isael oversees workforce development, labor rights education, & the Day labor center efforts & recently helped organize the first Woman specific business program put on by the LAC.  Isael first started as an intern at the Latin American Coalition in 2010 where he co-taught ESL for adults. 

Mejia will discuss the current conditions of immigrant & migrant laborers in the Charlotte area & some of the ways in which the Latin American Coalition supports & advocates for these laborers & other members of the Latin American community.  Opportunities for how students, faculty, staff, & community members can get involved in supporting these efforts will be discussed.

La Coalición is a community of Latin Americans, immigrants & allies that promotes full & equal participation of all people in the civic, economic, & cultural life of North Carolina through education, celebration & advocacy.

This talk is co-sponsored by University Career Services at UNC Charlotte. 

Closing Talk & Reception
November 1 at 5:30 p.m.
Location: Halton Reading Room, Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte

Featuring guest speaker, Thomas A. Arcury, Program Director of the Translational Science Institute, Director of the Center for Worker Health & Professor & Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Family & Community Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Dr. Arcury co-edited Latino Farmworkers in the Eastern United States: Health, Safety & Justice (Springer) & has published articles in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, Journal of Immigrant & Minority Health, Health Education & Behavior, Journal of Agromedicine, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, & more.

Campus & local community organizations will be featured at the event from 5:30-6:15 during the reception.


Smithsonian logo

Atkins Library logo

CLAS logo

“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964” is organized by the National Museum of American History & organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Funding is made possible through the Smithsonian’s Latino Center, which celebrates Latino culture, spirit & achievement in America by facilitating the development of exhibitions, research, collections & education programs.

Lesson Plans

Discover interesting lesson plans for grade levels 6-12 that can help you integrate the exhibit & the program into your curriculum.


Would you like to bring your high school class to view the exhibit &/or attend the programs?  

Would you like to discuss ideas for incorporating the exhibit & program into classes, including assignments, in-class activities & extra credit opportunities for program participation?  

Please contact Atkins Librarian Amanda Binder to help coordinate your visit or to discuss ideas.

We need your feedback!  If you do incorporate the exhibit, program &/or lesson plans into your classes, please take a moment to share with us.