Empire’s Cameras

A Visual and Literary Study of Bracero History

by Daniel Delgado and Ellen von zur Muehlen

Cover image by Sid Avery


The Bracero Program, as a labor regime, can be understood both through its historical particularities and its more generalizable themes. Our work attempts to capture how transnational alignments of capital interests create policies that generate a mobile and exploited class of workers. We insist on the subjecthood of the workers as historical actors with motivations that clashed, overlapped, and aligned with those structures they navigated—or were moved by. To capture the significance of the Bracero Program in all its complexities, we blend distinct methodologies. This project is guided by a central question: how can scholars best produce knowledge about policy to accurately reflect the experiences of those who lived its consequences?

First, we elaborate the factual history of the program to provide a firm contextual bedrock that situates the original braceros in their historic conjuncture. This background section focuses on how cooperation between North American political and corporate entities operated in the mid-twentieth century to motivate the program’s inception and shape its organization. The history of the Bracero program ought to be recognized as a study of economic life. But it is also a history of race. Laws such as the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act used national origin as a substitute for race to build an immigration infrastructure of racialized selectivity. In this way, “Mexicanness” was denigrated by the global discourse the doctrine solidified. By the time the program rolled out in 1942, Mexicans had been made into racial subjects that were one-dimensional and fungible to serve the labor regime’s commodity-function. Migrant’s lives and things that held meaning to them, such as family and culture, were devalued. 

Next, through a visual analysis of photographs from the Bracero History Archive and a popular magazine, we explore how this racialized subjectivity was the mode through which people experienced class. We show how subjecthood operated as the vehicle of expression for consciousness among workers. Put differently, because the racialized Mexican category was superimposed onto a perceived homogenous workforce, braceros in turn appropriated that same category to build bonds of solidarity as comradely nationals. This section emphasizes the ways in which the braceros exercised agency and defied expectation even while caught in the gears of major socio-historical forces. Another major focus of this section is to consider how photographs contribute to our understanding of the past. Rather than treat photographs as passive tools of knowledge conveyance, we engage with ideas of photographic subjectivity and perspective. 

In our last section, we blend both the macro and micro view of the bracero program by engaging with two works of fiction: a film and a novel. These works give vivid accounts of the lived experiences of migrant laborers while also offering a critique of the power structures that shape those experiences. The novel in particular, Lunar Braceros 2125-2148 by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita, seems to be making an argument about the temporal continuity of the bracero experience. Set a century into the future, Lunar Braceros details its own history, which coincides with real history up to the present day, at which point it projects a future that seems almost inevitable, a prophetic vision of the future that global capitalism will bring. 

All the stories that we gather and consider in this project serve to emphasize the stark contrast between two major ideas of the migrant worker. On one side, we have the gaze of the white, liberal capitalist, a gaze that produces the figure of the worker and later decides that same worker is redundant and disposable. On the other side, we have the workers’ self-conceptions which chafe against the bounds imposed on them, at times producing acts of rebellion and resistance. This tense relationship plays out across the lens of the camera, through the documents of the archive, and in the pages of both speculative and historical literature (Marche, 2012).

Foundations for Understanding the Bracero Program

Between 1890 and 1929, around 1.5 million Mexicans migrated to the U.S. as agricultural workers (Bowman, 2016). Despite harsh labor conditions, migration continued due to a simple fact: those who participated in the U.S. economy fared better than those who did not. Implemented in 1942 during World War II, the Bracero Program marks an era in U.S.-Mexican history in which the “migratory character” of Mexican labor that sustained the U.S. Southwest economy was codified (Driscoll, 1999). The bilateral agreement between the United States and Mexico had the stated intention of alleviating wartime labor shortage in the near-term. However, there were other forces at play that motivated the architects of the policy. In reality, the agreement lasted for twenty-two years until 1964. During that time, the program was responsible for issuing 4.6 million contracts to guest workers, marking it as an unprecedented immigration policy because of its scale, and because the U.S. government assumed the role of contractor itself (Sifuentez, 2017).

How had the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement, as it was officially known, come to be? By underscoring U.S workers’ military service during World War II, pro-migration policy makers cast the program and the seasonal workers it contracted, the braceros, as part of a “heroic” contribution to economic mobilization for the war. Most of the wartime migrant laborers were contractually restricted to harvesting crops, although some also labored on railway maintenance crews. After the war, growers continued to press for access to Mexican workers, and so the program continued until 1964, when it was terminated by President Lyndon Johnson.  

The twenty-two-year duration of the Bracero Program was a complex epoch among U.S. and Mexican policy makers, reformers, diplomats, and politicians. As a regime that enmeshed sectors of labor with migratory trends, it operated under three departments: the Department of Labor, the State Department, and the Department of Justice, specifically as a program in the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Historian Manuel García y Griego breaks the program’s history down into three significant phases in his 1981 treatise The Importation of Mexican Contract Laborers to the United States, 1942-1964. “Wartime cooperation” characterized the early years (1942-1946), and “turbulence and transition” described the middle (1947-1954). Finally, from 1955 to 1964, the program reaches “apogee and demise.” Each period brought its own complications, ideologies, politics, and consequences for both the U.S. and Mexico, but especially for the workers (García y Griego, 1981).

The 1920s marked the first era of robust debate on the “problem” of emigration between Mexican officials and policymakers who were worried about its impact on postrevolutionary economic reconstruction. Active recruitment efforts from U.S. employers animated fears of labor shortages and pressures to raise wages. In cities like Monterrey, local employers complained that U.S. contractors were taking away skilled workers from the steel mill and railway shops in the early 1920s. Critics of the Bracero program declared that those in favor of emigration were ludicrous: some even declared this policy the result of a failed revolution (Hale, 1995). Young and hard-working Mexicans were being encouraged to leave the homeland to slave away in lands that once were rightfully theirs, objectors protested. By the 1950s it had become Mexico’s most controversial state policy (Overmyer-Velazquez, 2011). On the other hand, prominent intellectuals and statesmen believed that with proper guidance, Mexicans would enter the agricultural industry, learn new skills, and remit their earnings. Modernity was on the horizon if Mexicans just learned to cooperate with the colossus (Snodgrass, 2011). 

In spite of the hardships, discrimination, and abuses migrants faced, the Mexican anthropologist, Manuel Gamio collected evidence that illustrated the benefits of remittances, the improvement in migrant’s diets, hygiene, and housing standards, as well as their return with better clothes, tools, and farm implements. Emigration, according to Gamio’s study, also coincided with the promotion of state projects to educate and uplift the rural masses. The argument’s logic was the following: peasants who went to labor in the U.S. would develop discipline, technological skills, and aspirations which they would use to improve their communities of origin upon return (Garnio, 1930). 

Understanding the Bracero Program as a source of federal support for U.S. growers, during a time of Keynesian economics, helps to explain the enormous success of agribusiness and the program’s eventual termination. The economist Wayne Grove has demonstrated that the need to manage the precarity of the transition to mechanized farming convinced Congress of the utility of the Bracero Program (Grove, 2000). As Cohen illustrates: “This support came in two forms: first, allowing growers to employ and control low-wage labor, from which they accumulated capital for equipment and additional land … and second, funding research on seed and soil requirements for sustained mechanized farming … only after these technologies were readily available at reasonable cost (in the 1960s) would the Bracero Program be terminated.” By formally integrating the U.S.-Mexican political economy, Congress ensured for U.S. growers a reserve pool of workers to ease the road to mechanized farming and development of the Southwest (Cohen, 2011). This is how agricultural mechanization was achieved in the U.S. under the tag-team tutelage of private capital and “public” interests.

Visualizing Braceros: Narrative Through the Camera Lens

The camera enjoys a privileged position in modern visual culture. It is ubiquitous, and so are the images we produce with it. Among the privileges of the camera is the assumption that it has the power to capture truth and thus to produce knowledge—knowledge deemed highly valuable as a result of its presumed objectivity, neutrality, and transparency. The mechanical eye of the camera casts its unfeeling gaze on the objects before it and produces an accurate representation of those objects and their surroundings. Following this logic, photographs are documentary and therefore represent powerful sources for describing history.

In contrast, Western cultural perceptions of texts tend to assert their narrative function. As Christina Walter notes: “in Anglo-American culture (and in Western European cultures more broadly) texts were presumed to capture an observer’s interiority, active reason, and disembodiment, but images were treated as if they passively conveyed external objects of observation, along with their stable form and materiality” (Walter, 2014). In our work, we hope to blur the lines between what images and texts are presumed to communicate and consider how both combine to enmesh a narrative about the Bracero Program.  

Our goal in this work is to push back against the assumed objectivity of the camera and instead assert the agency of both the photographer and the people represented in photographs. We ask how photographs of people show a blending of individual subjectivities through the intermediation of the camera. On one end of the camera, the photographer casts their gaze through a lens, both literal and metaphoric, and decides how the subject will be framed and viewed by future observers. On the other end, the photographer’s subject gazes back, directly at the camera or elsewhere, and interactively communicates with their body—through gestures and positions. Finally, future observers of the photograph apply their subjective lens to the interpretation of the photograph, now an object removed from its original context.  

We will consider how the men of the Bracero Program resist objectification and assert their subjectivity through the lens of the camera. To do this, we put the photographs in conversation with written testimonials from the Bracero History Archive. At the same time, we examine the photographer’s role as both documentarian and storyteller. In a sense, we hope to diminish the role of the camera itself and focus on the human actors involved, thereby rejecting any claim that photographs capture an objective reality superior to human vision, or to storytelling through text, or to intersubjective experiences.

The Bracero History Archive

A group of people posing for a photo

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While the Bracero History Archive contains hundreds of images of braceros at work, the photographs we have chosen highlight the social lives of braceros instead. In these sets of photographs, we glimpse moments of leisure and social engagement as well as performances of masculinity outside of context of labor. The picture of the top left, archival item #954, underscores the youthfulness of many braceros. The archival description states “Photo of Jose Ramirez Delgado and braceros in 1950,” but because the image contains three men, it is unclear who Jose is. The young men’s attitudes and attire make it appear as though they are prepared for a night out. Indeed, the aviator glasses, the slightly angled hat, and the neatly cuffed pants suggest they are not preparing to go to work. The photograph to the right, item #565, shows a cool, collected, stylish posing in front of a car. The description simply states: “Color image of bracero leaning on car in town.” With his relaxed pose and casual attire, this nameless man also appears to be enjoying free time away from the fields. The car is also notable as a distinctly masculine symbol of upwards mobility. Taken together, the two images of stylish young men depict a social life with uniquely gendered signifiers of leisure and status.

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The final photo centered here shows a bracero with his daughter. Margarita Flores is the young girl in the photo. The photo was taken in 1947 on the “Sparks” Ranch. The creases and the fading at the bottom suggest that the photo was heavily used, likely as a memento. This picture reflects that braceros were often followed to the U.S. by their family, and also illustrates some of the motives of the braceros: improving their family’s well-being. The desire to support your family economically while having to separate yourself from them to do so, is a difficult paradox of migration narratives, and one that many braceros were forced to reckon with. Many of the images in the Archive depict single men at work or in moments of rest and recreation, but images like this one document that the social lives of braceros also involved family. 

The Sid Avery Collection

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These pictures were taken by the photographer Sid Avery, who is better known for his time in Hollywood than in the harvest of the American South West. The perspective they offer on the past is both revealing and obfuscating. He was assigned by the Saturday Evening Post to do a story on the Bracero Program in 1957. His coworker, who wrote the accompanying article, Fred Eldridge, explained how each year more than 400,000 Mexican laborers played the role of “modern agricultural mercenary” helping make the U.S. farming industry work. Rafael Tamayo, pictured above to the left, became the main subject of the story that got published. In the essay, Tamayo explained that he “came to America because my family and I are very poor. I am a campesino [farm worker]. I earn seven pesos a day.” In the U.S., however, these people would be laboring for as low as $1.50 per day. Indeed, “the destruction of semi-feudal relationships of mutual obligation on the ranch and the shift to wage labor was, in fact, necessary to create the agricultural proletariat that modern agribusiness needed” (Ngai, 2014). The propertied elite of this business strategy took the mobile workers as proverbial cannon fodder for their industrial farms.

Sid Avery’s standpoint as a Hollywood photographer must inform our reading of his depictions of these braceros. The photo of Rafael Tamayo, in particular, resembles a celebrity headshot. Tamayo’s upwards gaze, slightly furrowed brow, and artfully positioned hand create a cinematic narrative of righteous suffering, echoed in the accompanying quote. Avery’s gaze, informed no doubt by his other work, invents the role of a tragic hero, a sympathetic man working hard to escape—or alleviate—poverty. This role collides and enmeshes with the image of self that Rafael Tamayo presents to the viewer. Tamayo is not, after all, an actor intentionally adopting a role for the camera, but a man embodying his own condition of life. Together, Tamayo’s sense of self and Avery’s artistic vision create an image with a style that is more narrative than documentary. 

In the second photo above, a similar interplay between the photographer’s and subjects’ perspectives tell a story about leisure and sociality. Several men prepare a meal at a camp, two fully visible, while another two just peek out of the margins of the picture. The fully visible man on the left stands out for his apparent youth: he looks like he could be yet a teenager. As a scene of camaraderie, the image suggests something about the social lives of the braceros, who found community and friendship with each other in a space of intense labor alienation. While the context of migration and labor regimes implies displacement and alienation, through the images above we see how it also produced novel communities and enriching social spaces.

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Some of Avery’s photos told a very different story, a story of institutional violence that contrasts sharply with the social themes of the previous images. The next photograph shows the men being dusted with DDT—a colorless, tasteless, and mostly odorless crystalline chemical compound originally developed as an insecticide. Ultimately, it became infamous for its negative environmental impacts and carcinogenic effects in people. This process reflects the ways in which braceros were viewed and treated as fungible workers whose sole purpose in the U.S. was the commodification of their labor power. This sanitation process also reflects the modernizing ideology touted by the Mexican policymakers who promoted the bracero program. Sanitation and public health are key themes of modernity that in this case were weaponized against migrant workers. As migrants from supposedly backwards communities, these workers were met with a racialized suspicion towards their hygiene and health standards in the receiving communities in the United States. The application of insecticide directly to the braceros’ clothes and bodies is the extreme and damaging manifestation of this suspicion.

For the braceros, modernization through the program entailed subjection to health and sanitation practices premised on racism and designed to allay the anxieties of white people in receiving communities. A contributed item #3239 by Mary Vargas in the Bracero History Archive titled “Un Simple Bracero” shares the experience of a young bracero when he joined the program: 

“He felt at ease knowing he was going to the USA with his cousin. As they arrived in Arizona, he found himself in a small room overcrowded with others. His stomach growled with hunger; he was surviving on limited meal portions. After a couple of days of waiting, he started to smell. No showers or rest[r]ooms [sic] were available to them.

They were ordered to form 2 lines. They were told to take off all their clothes and walk into a room and stand there. Soon, he heard a spraying sound. He found himself covered with a white powdery substance, he was told the powder was to kill lice, yet no shower was provided afterward. The men were ordered to put their clothes back on”.

Mary Vargas, the daughter of the man in the story, illustrates her father’s experience in a vivid narrative style. This brief episode provides an inside perspective on the treatment of braceros documented in Avery’s photo. We see how the officials of the bracero program forced the men into inhumane conditions and denied them access to basic hygiene facilities. The program operated with a kind of efficiency grounded in the alienation of the workers from their very bodies and bodily functions. The routine functioning of the bracero program was premised on cruelty—to enter the program was to lose a certain degree of agency over one’s own body and be subjected to harm and humiliation. Even Avery’s overall gentle depiction of the program captured something of this cruelty.

Despite the fact that Sid Avery’s photographs exist to create a narrative of the Bracero Program palatable enough for a popular audience, there are useful elements in what he “documents.” In his visual assemblage of Bracero history what can be denominated as “archive” accounts for a wide range of affective displays, from the heartwarming to the horrific. With images of both cruel mistreatment and worker leisure, the work of the camera is in full effect. What the camera as object “does” is materialize the visual field of the photographers’ emotional empathies and the policies’ practical ramifications. In this sense it shows the overlaps of phenomenological interaction with the program and structural adjustments to the legal system necessitated by the reach of this agreement. Avery’s work is both documentary and narrative, communicating factual and subjective elements of the bracero experience.

The Criticisms of a Film and a Novel: When Art and Reality Collide

Fictional accounts of migrant experiences can add dimension and truth to historical accounts. In the dreamlike film “Y No Se lo Tragó la Tierra,” based on the novel by Tomás Rivera, the director’s deployment of “camera-work” helps depict images and sequences from the life of a young boy from a family of migrant farmworkers. The boy, Marcos, follows his family as they travel north with other families from their town to work in farms in the northern states of the United States. Marcos works alongside his parents, harvesting crops and other chores. He also attempts to attend school, both in his hometown in south Texas and in a small town in Minnesota. Marcos’ education becomes a central concern. While Marcos and his family are passionate about the boy getting an education, the educational system itself is totally indifferent to Marcos as a student. The film’s disorienting narrative style, which weaves together vivid moments and images into a fractured, nonlinear chronology turns an intimate lens onto migrant farmworker life. 

Scenes of violent encounter and institutional negligence underscore the impact of racialization and white anxiety on the lived experiences of migrant farmworkers. When Marcos begins school at the town in Minnesota, he is confronted by the cruelty and prejudice of the school officials and his classmates. On his first day, the school nurse conducts a humiliating search where she checks Marcos for lice then has him strip down and douses his clothes and hair with insecticide. His treatment reveals the racist suspicions of dirtiness that white northerners imposed on migrant farm workers and their families, both interpersonally and in terms of policy. This scene also creates a direct link to the archival document describing the moment when a new group of braceros were dusted with DDT and the Syd Avery photograph depicting the same event. In concert, the three source materials demonstrate the bodily harm enacted by white authorities towards migrant farmworkers from Mexico. 

The actions of the nurse are echoed in the behavior of the white children at the school, who taunt and torment Marcos. In one scene, three boys corner him in the bathroom, with the leader threatening Marcos, saying “I don’t like Mexicans because they steal. I don’t like them at all” (Pérez, 1994). Eventually, the boys’ insults and intimidation prompt Marcos to punch the largest one in the face, which results in his getting kicked out of school. We hear the school principal on the phone, assuming that Marcos’ parents won’t mind him getting kicked out since he will be able to go back to work. Through the principal’s clear apathy towards Marcos’ education, we can see how he employs an essentializing notion of Mexican migrants as racialized laborers. In his view, there is no loss of potential by expelling Marcos, despite the fact that he has proven himself to be a thoughtful and intelligent student. 

The depictions of Marcos’ school experiences recall one of the contributed documents in the Bracero History Archive, titled “Education gives you the tools to survive”, item #3242. This note, created by Belem Antunez, recounts the author’s experience as a sixteen-year-old farm worker and student. At Fabens Grade School in El Paso, Texas, Belem encountered racism and prejudice from her classmates similar to the fictional Marcos. For example, Belem describes how a classmate took advantage of her imperfect English to embarrass her in front of the class: “When I used to asked my apparently friend, in the school Can you help me? in this poem? She will said, sure I help you, but only to put the wrong words in the poem to make the others mack at me, Like my horse went to drink water and I was eating his food, things like that, to make every one laugh.” Belem notes that “at that time I was so Innocent,” and that made her an easy target, since she would have never assumed someone was trying to be malicious (Ibid). Belem’s (probably white) classmates signal her otherness to her by rejecting her attempt to connect and turning it into an opportunity to ridicule her over her perceived lack of mastery of the English language. While she had expected that her willingness to learn and make friends would be reciprocated, Belem finds that much like Marcos, the constricting pressures of racialization close off these opportunities. Though Marcos’ story is fictional, it accurately illustrates the themes of alienation and casual violence that pervade the lives of racialized laborers, such as those swept into the Bracero Program.

A literary lens can offer a unique and creative window through which to analyze and contextualize history. The artistic license afforded to fiction writers can arguably lead to a more honest account, one that delves deeper into subjective truths. The science fiction novel Lunar Braceros 2125-2148 by Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita treats similar themes to the film in a vivid alternative future setting. In this future, the United States has collapsed, and many of the southwestern states have formed a new political entity with a large portion of northern Mexico. This polity, called Cali-Texas, represents a conglomeration of corporate powers into a nation-state, including “the transnational agri-business corporation and the four big biotechs, companies that controlled anything and everything that had to do with technology transfer, information and any kind of power generation, biofuel, nuclear or otherwise” (Sánchez and Pita, 2018, p. 6).

Society has bifurcated into an upper class of the extremely wealthy and an underclass composed of primarily non-white dispossessed workers, the unemployed, and the unhoused, all of whom have been corralled into “Reservations” that function similar to prison camps. This segment of society “became a controlled laboratory labor force, like lab rats, a disciplinary society that was useful to the state” (Ibid, p. 14). This work of fiction thus projects a future that mirrors and intensifies the real, historic Bracero Program. Mexican and United States powers coalesce into an organization that requires the exploitation of a racialized underclass to advance their modernist projects.  

Lunar Braceros takes to the extreme the notion of the disposability of racialized laborers. The central plot of the story follows how the main narrator, a woman named Lydia, volunteers for a job in waste management on the moon, which has become an important site for mining and waste disposal due to the utter degradation of the Earth. One day in the course of her duties on the moon, Lydia and her partner Frank discover that the previous crews of workers had never been sent back to Earth as promised but were dead and stored in waste containers on the moon. These workers, all sourced from the Reservations, prisons, and general pool of desperate people, became sacrifices in the name of capital accumulation; they were killed to make room on the transports for more mining products. The symbolism of the murdered workers interred in waste containers is obvious: the authors make literal the disposability of the lunar braceros by linking their fate to the very waste they manage on the moon landfill.

In her narration, Lydia notes that “At a social organization level the Moon modules were turning out to be a recapitulation of Earth history. What was clear was that much like on Earth, on the Moon the Lab Director had the power to determine life and death” (p. 59). Despite representing human aspirations toward progress and modernity, the colonization of the moon served only to replicate terrestrial inequalities. As with the real, historical Bracero Program, which was ideologically tied to notions of progress and modernization, the organization of labor in Lunar Braceros revisits the worst offenses of colonial labor exploitation while claiming to offer a preferable alternative. The title of the novel, by referencing the historical Bracero Program, is as much an indictment of the past as it is a projection of the future. While the original Bracero Program was suffused with a nationalist narrative of progress and modernism and dignity through labor, Lunar Braceros dispenses with this narrative entirely by depicting the story’s central characters as exploited, alienated workers in a state of constant resistance against oppressive capital/political forces. As a speculative work, Lunar Braceros imagines a future that “represents not so much a site of progress and humanistic harmony as a return to the colonial past” (Rivera, 2012). The novel thus functions as a critique of colonial relations in the U.S. and Mexico, past and present. If offers a perspective on the future from below, the perspective of the worker whose bodily sacrifice is deemed acceptable, or at least unavoidable, in order to achieve the advancements in technology and territorial expansion desired by the ruling class. Sánchez and Pita draw a direct line between the real, historical practices of colonialism, which have always been in service of supposed progress and modernity, and speculative futures, forcing the reader to recon with the notion of “progress” from the standpoint of those whose labor makes it possible but who do not benefit from it.


Together, film, novel, archival documents, and photographs provide a prismatic view of the Bracero Program and its historical themes: labor alienation, migrant experiences, and the contradictions of modernity. These materials layer over each other, enabling an analysis that plays with the tensions between intimacy and distance, interiority and exteriority. In the photographs, the men pictured communicate with the viewer through the intermediation of the camera and photographer. In the film, the director uses artistic expression to narrate what is available to us only as a snapshot with the photos. In that sense, the interplay of the film and the visual appeal of photography are in conversation. Methodologically, then, these mediums compel us to consider the means through which we consume history and, as a result, how we come to know it.  

This project is therefore an intervention on our disciplinary moorings. By incorporating a number of visual materials we intend to push beyond history as textual. By engaging with history as a product of speculative literary methods, too, we argue that an understanding of the past must be apprehended through numerous types of knowledge. In fact, by making central the use of photography, film, and literature the work of this article is about what is considered to be evidence. In this way, we also insist that the more open our notions of “historical evidence” are the more we come to know the braceros the way they knew themselves. This does a lot to combat the kinds of epistemic violence that scholars can reproduce when writing about the past using documents that reflect the state’s apparatus rather than the humans that apparatus claims to govern. 

Finally, by specifically analyzing science fiction as genre we also try to unpack modernity’s dark side. By questioning its promises, Sánchez and Pita comment on the future as well as the past and mark the notion of time with new meaning. By setting it in outer space they also reimagine the notion of borderlands—an idea central to the literature on bracero history. In the midst of hemispheric currents of economic modernization projects, both U.S. and Mexican policymakers trumpeted that by earning a place in the guest worker program, the braceros would themselves acquire a more “modern” identity. Cohen argues that “modern” was “the then broadly accepted term for the ideological package that figured progress, democracy, and technological and scientific advancement as unquestionable goals” (2011). Thinking of “modernity” itself as a sort of borderland, that is contingent on historic social forces, issues of race and nation, and power, challenges the common dichotomy that perceives immigrants as either confronting exploitation or opportunity, and gestures to how they could experience both simultaneously. Sánchez and Pita accomplish this by using literary methods, causing us to rethink approaches to the past’s reconstruction. We hope that our study does so too.

Daniel Delgado graduated from Amherst College in 2020 as a double major in Black Studies and Latin American Studies. Starting in the fall, he will be a PhD student at the History Department at the University of Southern California. His research interests primarily revolve around 20th century histories of immigration, labor, race and ethnicity.

Ellen von zur Muehlen is a recent graduate of Amherst College with degrees in French and Biology. She is an incoming graduate student in French and Francophone Studies at UCLA, where she will pursue a doctoral degree. In her future research, she hopes to combine literary critique and environmental studies.

Works Cited

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Charles Hale, “Frank Tannenbaum and the Mexican Revolution,” Hispanic American Historical Review 75, no. 2 (Fall 1995).

Christina Walter, “Introduction: Eye Don’t See: Embodied Vision, Ontology, and Modernist Impersonality,” in Optical Impersonality: Science, Images, and Literary Modernism, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).

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Don Mitchell, They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-Era California (University of Georgia Press, 2012). 

Guillaume Marche, “Why Infrapolitics Matters,” Revue Francaise D’etudes Americaines 131, no. 1 (Fall 2012).

Lori A. Flores, Grounds for Dreaming: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the California Farmworker Movement, (Yale University Press, 2016). 

Mae M. Ngai, Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America,(Princeton University Press, 2014).

Manuel Gamio, Mexican Immigration to the United States: A Study of Human Migration and Adjustment (The University of Chicago Press, 1930).

Manuel García y Griego, The Importation of Mexican Contract Laborers in the United States, 1942-1964: Antecedents, Operation, and Legacy, (La Jolla: Program in US-Mexican Studies, 1981).

Mario Sifuentez, “History, Public Memory, and Creating the Bracero Archive,” Oregon Historical Society 118, no. 4 (2017).

Michael Snodgrass, “Patronage and Progress: The Bracero Program from the Perspective of Mexico” in Workers Across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History (Oxford University Press, 2011).

____. “The Bracero Program, 1942-1964,” in Beyond la Frontera: The History of Mexican-U.S. Migration ed. Mark Overmyer-Velazquez (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Peter G. Brown and Henry Shue, The Border That Joins: Mexican Migrants and U.S. Responsibility, (Rowman and Littlefield, 1983).

Rivera, Lysa. “Future Histories and Cyborg Labor: Reading Borderlands Science Fiction after NAFTA.” Science Fiction Studies 39, no. 3 (2012).

Ronald L. Mize, The Invisible Workers of the U.S.–Mexico Bracero Program: Obreros Olvidados (Lexington Books, 2016). 

Sanchez, Rosaura, and Beatrice Pita. Lunar Braceros 2125-2148. Floricanto Press, eBook, 2018.

Severo Pérez, “Y No Se lo Trago la Tierra” (1994; KPBS-TV and Severo Perez Films).

Timothy P. Bowman, Blood Oranges: Colonialism and Agriculture in the South Texas Borderlands, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2016).

Wayne A. Grove, “Cotton on the Federal Road to Economic Development: Technology and Labor Policies Following World War II,” Agricultural History 74, no. 2 (Spring 2000).