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Museum charts history of Braceros

The Washington County Museum will host its most extensive Spanish-language program ever in September. It will be a film, discussion and lecture series that builds on the Bracero farm worker exhibit the museum mounted when it opened its new space in the Hillsboro Civic Center Plaza last year.

“The idea is to reach both Mexican-Americans and Anglos who want to learn more about the history of farmworker immigration, both from the Mexican and American perspectives,” said bilingual outreach educator Ilene O’Malley.

As documented by the first exhibit, the Bracero Program was started by the United States and Mexican governments in World War II to provide workers for American farmers. This step was taken to replace those who had joined the war effort. Thousands of Mexican workers were transported into the United States — including Washington County — during harvest season, then sent back home when the work was over.

According to O’Malley, the program continued in a modified form that encouraged both undocumented immigration and abuse of farm workers after the war. One goal of the program is to explore the impacts on both countries, which continue to this day.

The series is supported by a $6,000 grant from the Oregon Council on the Humanities.

The program includes screenings of four commercial films from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, which describe the experience of farm workers in America. They are presented under the title, “Mexico Looks at the Braceros: The Migrant Labor Experience in Mexican Film.”

Three of the films were made in Mexico and are in Spanish. They are: “Bracero del año” (“Bracero of the Year,” 1963); “Pito Perez se va de Bracero” (“Pito Pérez Becomes a Bracero,” 1948); and “Espaldas mojadas” (“Wetbacks,” 1953).

O’Malley said viewers may be surprised to see the films depicting Mexico as a modern, successful country that is doing America a favor by allowing its workers to cross the border.

“That’s not the stereotype image we have today,” O’Malley pointed out.

Film showings will be followed by audience discussions. Two panels featuring bilingual local farm worker experts and activists are also scheduled.

All of the screenings, discussions and presentations will be presented in the museum exhibit space above Starbucks in the Civic Center, 120 E. Main St., Hillsboro.

The original exhibit titled “Americans All: The Bracero Program in Washington County,” is currently on display at the museum.




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