Museum remembers when Mexican help was welcomed by all

Jose Jaimie and Melvin Van Domelen grew up on opposite sides of the cultural divide that defined Washington County’s early experiments with migrant labor.

Two of Jaimie’s brothers were braceros, Latin American workers recruited to the United States to harvest crops during World War II. He remembers the time here as being full of sadness.

“The Bracero Program probably brought many dollars to braceros,” said Jaimie, a Hillsboro resident. “But [it] brought much more suffering.”by: COURTESY PHOTO: THE SMITHSONIAN -  Mexican braceros came to Oregon to fill a shortage in agricultural workers during World War II.

The Bracero Program (named for the Spanish word for “laborer”) began in August of 1942 after Mexico joined the Allies’ war effort. To fill a shortage of agricultural workers, the bracero agreement brought more than 215,000 Mexican and Latin American laborers to the United States in the program’s first five years alone.

Van Domelen, then a local farm boy, heard Jaimie’s brothers speak long ago on braceros at a 4-H fair in Shute Park. Even as a boy, he recognized their sorrow.

“I think they were homesick, or missing [their] children,” Van Domelen said.

Both men have shared their recollections as part of the Washington County Museum’s newest exhibit, “Americans All: The Bracero Program in Washington County.” The exhibit focuses on the oral histories gathered from those who participated in and observed braceros in this area and will be the topic of a March 19 presentation at the Walters Cultural Arts Center.

“It’s a bit of a complex story,” said Krissy Rowan, the museum’s communications director.

The exhibit, which opened last fall in the museum’s new downtown Hillsboro location, showcases how individualized and diverse the experiences were for bracero workers. Rowan said many exhibit visitors are surprised by the number of Latino families that settled in Washington County because of the Bracero Program.

Check it out

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, Washington County Museum outreach educator Ilene O’Malley will present “Braceros — The Men of Migrant Labor,” at the Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E. Main St., Hillsboro. The program is free. For more information, call 503-615-3485.

“Americans All: The Bracero Program in Washington County” is open Wednesdays through Sundays through June 14, at the Washington County Museum, Hillsboro Civic Center Plaza Building, 120 E. Main St. For more information call 503-645-5353.

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