Group portrait of braceros who were brought up during World War II to work on the Southern Pacific Railroad lines here in Oakland. They are posed on the railroad tracks in Oakland.

Article by Marcia Eymann in the Summer 2001 Museum of California magazine:At the beginning of World War II California faced a critical labor shortage. More than 700,000 Californians had entered military service by 1942. Women and Dust Bowl migrants were working for booming war industries. In addition, the removal and detention of all the state's ethnic Japanese left California's growers and other businesses desperate to find other workers. The agricultural industry was hit hardest as large farms enlisted convicts, high-school students, housewives and prisoners of war to harvest crops.Growers' complaints finally pursuarded the federal government to arrange a harvest labor importation program with Mexico in 1942. Under the rules of this program transportation, health care, decent housing, a minimum wage and unemployment pay in case of work shortage were provided to Mexicans who would sign up to work in California's fields. These benefits far surpassed benefits available to domestic agricultural workers. Thus began the bracero program, a pact between the United States and Mexico which reached its peak of 26,000 workers in 1944, but continued until the 1960s.The braceros in the jovial group snapshot came to California specifically to work on the Southern Pacific Rail Road (as it was then spelled), and the photograph was taken at the SP tracks in Oakland. Like the agricultural workers, railroad workers earned a reasonable wage, and housing was provided to draw them to the United States. According to Jose Cruz, who donated the photograph to the Oakland Museum of California and is one of the pictured men, life in California was very appealing. He recalls working on the railroad by day and dancing by night at Sweets Ballroom in Oakland, where some of the finest Latin musicians played, including Xavier Cugat. The majority of men in the photograph eventually made California their permanent home.Photographs such as this are not collected for their artistic quality but for their historical significance. Though worn and faded, this photograph provides an important visual record of the bracero program and those whose lives were affected by it. The men were changed by the war as surely as those who served in the military. Personal snapshots like this are treasures, providing a window into the past and representing California history as it was being made.

Picture This Information

This artifact is part of the OMCA's Picture This website. More about the context and history of this artifact is available at Picture This.

About the Picture This web project: California's Perspectives on American History is a resource for teachers and students to learn about the experiences of diverse peoples of California by using primary source images from the Oakland Museum of California's collections. Organized into 11 time periods spanning from pre-1769 to the present, more than 300 photographs, drawings, posters, and prints tell stories from the perspectives of different ethnic groups. Historical contexts are provided to offer a framework of California's role in relation to American history.

The National Archives state that primary sources, "fascinate students because they are real and they are personal: history is humanized through them." Picture This invites students to examine the historical record, encouraging them to connect history with real people and explore how images tell stories and convey historical evidence about the human experience. History becomes more than just a series of facts, dates, and events.      

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