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UTEP In The Spotlight: BBC Features UTEP’s Institute of Oral History Collection

Last Updated on November 30, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Originally published November 20, 2018

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

A recent BBC World News "Witness" podcast highlighted the complex history of the Bracero Program that brought millions of Mexican guest workers to the United States from 1942 to 1964.

The basis of the report by senior BBC broadcast journalist Mike Lanchin were a set of interviews conducted by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Institute of Oral History in 2017 and 2018.

In 2017, the Institute of Oral History undertook numerous oral history interviews with former braceros and staff who worked with the program as part of a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the inception of the Bracero Program. The first braceros entered the United States in September 1942 through El Paso and were quickly sent out to other states. The oral histories were conducted as part of the first Bracero History Summit, co-sponsored by UTEP and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

While the Bracero Program ended more than five decades ago, the current debates about immigration policy have put it back in the news and made it all the more important to understand this chapter of American history. Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Oral History, believes that these stories also resonate today for a number of reasons. 

“Former braceros often speak about their desire to take care of their parents, wives, and children and their willingness to work hard,” Leyva said. “While they always describe the suffering and humiliation they experienced as braceros, their satisfaction in helping to build the U.S. economy and provide for their families always shines through.”

UTEP’s Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens recently hosted an exhibit last fall that also explored the program’s history. “Bracero Memories,” an exhibit at the museum from September to December 2017, used photographs, oral histories and artifacts that presented the braceros’ memories, accomplishments and frustrations while living and working in the United States. The Center for Border Farmworkers assisted with the exhibit.

Listen to the BBC “Witness” podcast featuring excerpts from interviews collected by UTEP researchers here.