Travelling Smithsonian exhibition makes its way to Georgia

KENNESAW, Ga. – A traveling exhibition showcasing contract laborers’ contributions to the United States during World War II will open up a limited engagement later this month at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History.

“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964” will be appearing at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History from Aug. 18 through Oct. 28. This is the first time the exhibit has appeared in Georgia as part of its nationwide tour.

Commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the National Museum of American History, the bilingual (English & Spanish) exhibit includes photos, documents and artifacts. The exhibition also features 12 audio excerpts in which workers (known as braceros), family members, growers and others give first-hand experiences.

“This exhibition allows us to explore complex issues of race, class, community and national origin while highlighting the irrefutable contributions by Mexican Americans to American society,” said Brent D. Glass, director emeritus of the National Museum of American History. “’Bittersweet Harvest’ is a unique opportunity to share an important but overlooked chapter in American history with visitors across the country.”

While most of the able bodied men were away and fighting overseas in World War II, the United States was battling severe labor shortages at home. In 1943, President Roosevelt announced the creation of the Bracero Program (Bracero being a term for manual laborer in Mexico) to help man our fields and railroads, literally building the foundation of this country. In the 22 years it ran, roughly 2 million Mexicans were brought into the United States to work on short-term labor contracts.

The exhibition explores the braceros’ contributions to communities in Mexico and the U.S. as well as the unique challenges they faced during the war years and afterwards. Both bitter and sweet, the bracero experience tells a story of exploitation but also opportunity.

“This illuminating exhibition sheds light on a period of history that so many people know so little about,” said Melinda Senn, curator of the Southern Museum. “This exhibition is sad, surprising and uplifting – all at the same time. Our hope is that this exhibition will create a renewed discussion on the topic.”

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