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Documenting the Stories of Bracero Guest Workers

As the Bush administration considers a new "guest worker" program for immigrants, there's a new drive to document some of the experiences of the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who worked in the United States as part the now-defunct "bracero" guest worker program.

The program began as a way to address World War II-era labor shortages, and ended in 1964. Now the Smithsonian Institution, with the help of university researchers, is recording the stories of these workers for a new oral history project.

The project was inspired by the 1998 acquisition of 1,700 photographs by Leonard Nobel that documented the whole bracero process, from recruiting workers in a Mexican town to working north of the border.

The bracero program dramatically changed the face of farm labor in the United States. Steve Velasquez, a curator at the Home and Community Life division at the Smithsonian, says the project is not only part of an important effort to document Mexican-American history, but also a valuable tool for understanding American culture.

Shereen Meraji is a producer and director forDay to Day.

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Shereen Meraji