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First Braceros, c. 1942
Portrait of one of the first Mexican "braceros" evidently brought to California to supplement the work force during World War II. The man is leaning out a half-opened window of a passenger car on an unidentified rail line in an unidentified location. The car bears two chalked inscriptions, one reading "Braceros / Mexicanos / Mexico," and the other, "Viva M[exico]." The worker wears a badge that reads, "Bienvenidos / los / Trabajadores / Mexicanos." (Welcome the Mexican Workers.) In 1942 Congress enacted the Emergency Labor Program to help the country solve its shortage of farm and railroad laborers occasioned by World War II. Importation of Mexican workers or “braceros” (the strong-armed ones) followed. By 1945, almost 100,000 Mexican braceros were working on the nation’s railroads; more worked on the nation’s farms. The program established the pattern of Mexican immigration to the U.S. and also fostered the regrettable working conditions which many immigrant laborers experienced. The photographer captures the charm of the moment--the institution of a major change in the American work force. Lange seems to have understood what made the day special.
Source Oakland Museum of California
Coverage Spatial, probably California; temporal, c. 1942
Rights Oakland Museum of California
Date Created c1942
Resource Type
Extent Not available.
Location Probably California
Image Type Portrait with railroad car.
Creator Description Dorothea Lange is recognized as a highly influential photographer of the Depression Era and World War II, and for her work at “Life” magazine. Born in New Jersey, she contracted polio when she was young and had a lifelong limp. She said that limp led her to empathize with the nation’s unfortunates. She studied photography at Columbia University in 1917-18, moved to California, and worked as a portrait photographer until 1932, when she photographed a bread line in San Francisco and launched her career as a social-commentary photographer, especially for the Farm Security Administration.
Collection © the Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, Gift of Paul S. Taylor
Image ID A67.137.42042.7
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