Forgotten Voices: The Bracero Program

Grade Level: 6 -10
Subject Areas: Language Arts and Social Studies/History, Science
Time Required:
50 minutes
Prepared by: 
Kaye Mullins and Gordon Hultberg from El Paso, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah
Bracero, Migrant, Migration, Discrimination

Download Full Lesson Plan 1 and 2


Kaye Mullins 05112017Kaye Mullins is from El Paso, Texas. She is the Education Curator at the Centennial Museum, The University of Texas at El Paso. As part of the public outreach activities, she develops workshops for teachers, young adults, and camps for children on a variety of subjects that include the Chihuahuan Desert. Kaye is a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar for 2017. She is a trained Civilian Emergency Reaction Team (CERT) member, and a certified facilitator for Project WILD, and soon to be Project Learning Tree. As a member of the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition and the Museum Education Roundtable she does outreach programs to the community. She enjoys exploring new places, teaching, and music. She plans to apply her knowledge of the Chihuahuan Desert histories and narratives by developing workshops and traveling presentations for area schools. Always looking for a new and better way of presenting the Chihuahaun Desert, Kaye plans to also use her newly acquired knowledge to help develop exhibits at the museum. Kaye can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Curriculum Vitae

Bio photoGordon Hultberg is a veteran teacher of English, drama, and the humanities with an interest in the arts and letters, Christianity, and democratic learning. A California native, he teaches in Salt Lake City, which has significant immigrant and refugee populations. Gordon joined the Summer Institute to open conversations about adolescent literacies, languages, and learning. He hopes to use new strategies among binational students in Utah and California with web-based instruction and also to find community among critical educators. Gordon enjoys biking, parakeets, and jazz piano as well as reading and teaching Charles Dickens and James Lee Burke. He is an independent scholar at the Dickens Universe at the University of California, Santa Cruz in August 2017. Gordon can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and @pradlfan.

Curriculum Vitae

Most Americans know very little about the Bracero Program, the nation's largest experiment with guest workers. Indeed, until very recently, this important story has been inadequately documented and studied, even by scholars.

The Bracero Program grew out of a series of bi-lateral agreements between Mexico and the United States that allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the United States to work on, short-term, primarily agricultural labor contracts.

From 1942 to 1964, 4.6 million contracts were signed, with many individuals returning several times on different contracts, making it the largest U.S. contract labor program. 

There are two complete lesson plans for this unit. Lesson 1 will be highlighted here, but you can download Lesson Plan 2 for additional activities on the Bracero Program.



1. What were the provisions of the bill that congress passed in regards to living conditions for migrants?

2. What can you learn about a typical Bracero program migrant from the contract? Do you think they were treated fairly? Why or why not?

3. How did these migrant workers affect the US economy? Do you think they gained something as well?

4. After looking at the images of migrant living conditions, do you think the bill passed by congress was enforced? Why or why not?

5. Why did the United States start the Bracero Program? Do you think it was a benefit? Do you think it benefitted Mexico as well? Why or why not?

6. Compare and contrast the immigration of the 1950s with immigration nowadays? In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different?

7. Do you think immigrants nowadays are working the same types of jobs? Do you think agricultural workers live in the same conditions nowadays? Why or why not?

Students will be able to analyze the role of the Bracero Program. Students will compare and contrast the immigration of agricultural workers to modern day immigration as demonstrated verbally and in writing.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: Chapter 2, The Themes of Social Studies:

(1) Culture

(3) People, Places, and Environments

(4) Individual Development and Identity

(9) Global Connections

Common Core State Standards, English Language Arts, Literacy.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science. 

Common Core State Standards, English Language Arts, Literacy.RH.9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), Social Studies, Subchapter C. High School §113.41. United States History Studies Since 1877 (26) Culture. The student understands how people from various groups contribute to our national identity. The student is expected to:

(A) explain actions taken by people to expand economic opportunities and political rights, including those for racial, ethnic, and religious minorities as well as women, in American society;

(B) discuss the Americanization movement to assimilate immigrants and American Indians into American culture; (C) explain how the contributions of people of various racial, ethnic, gender, and religious groups shape American culture[.]




*Media clips from two or three different news reports or segments

*Map of West Texas and the Chihuahua Desert regions

*Internet Access







Historical research starts with a question about the past. However, piecing together an accurate answer to these questions is not always easy. Sources can complement one another or contradict one another. The historian’s job is to explore and evaluate all kinds of sources to construct an answer or interpretation of the past.

Use the primary sources provided to answer the primary question: Was the bracero program an exploitation of or an opportunity for Mexican laborers? Justify your answer with the primary sources and your analysis of them.

Step 1:
Carefully read each document—as you read, explore and evaluate the sources. Think critically about each source separately, writing your thoughts in the margins as you read. Use the guiding questions above each primary source to help you analyze it. Make sure you identify each source to the extent you are able at the bottom of the page.

Step 2:
Now think about the sources as a whole. Weigh them against one another. Do they conflict with one another? Do they corroborate each other’s accounts? If a source is biased, how will that affect its role in your answer? Make notes (preferably in another color) in the margins and underline or highlight as you re-read to find the best way to fashion a fair answer. We recommend you use a piece of scratch paper to outline your points and the evidence you plan to make each point. Consider a four section format: introduction, evidence for, evidence against, conclusion.

Step 3:
After you have thought carefully about the documents, answer the essential question, justifying your answer with the primary sources and your analysis of them.



Building Background Knowledge:

Consider building background knowledge about the bracero program with the video or podcast at the links below.

Infuse Drama:

Students could take on the perspective of the people from the activity as a whole class or in small groups. For more in depth research, assign them to listen to the entire interview, which can be found on the Bracero History Archive (link under “Add Sources”).

Build an Understanding of Interpretation:

This activity can be used to help students understand that the same primary sources can be interpreted multiple ways. To do this, have students complete the historical investigation alone or in groups and then have the individuals or groups compare their narratives with each other to discover any differences in interpretation.

Use Real People and Real Stuff:

Consider trying to find actual objects to go along with the activity—for instance, you can cut a normal hoe down to 24 inches to make a replica cortito. You may also be able to find men and women in your community who were a part of bracero program, had family members who were part of the bracero program, or interacted with braceros in some way. You could invite them to speak to your class.



Step 1:

View a short clip on the Bracero program.

Think about Bracero Program and problems Mexican immigrants faced.

Discuss the benefits gained by this source of labor.

Step 2:

Revisit the vocabulary words throughout the lecture.

Ensure students have written down the correct definitions.

Ask students to form a circle of desks.

Handout documents to include:

  • Transcript of the Bracero Program Bill
  • Series of photos showing life for migrants in the Bracero Program

Close reading of a portion of the bill and a discussion of the Bracero Program.

Provide another handout with a series of questions that the students will be expected to answer during the discussion.

Step 3:

Close read and discussion of the bill discussing the law for providing migrants with proper housing conditions.

Provide a sample of a migrant's work contract.

View images that accompany the documents.

Ask an open-ended question, "What does the portion of the bill say about living conditions for the Bracero workers?

Students will be taking notes on other student’s answers.

Putting it All Together

The instructor will take this time to wrap up the discussion and answer any questions students have about the topic. The instructor will then ask students to fill out an "exit slip" asking them to list the most interesting thing they learned today and one thing that they would like more clarification on. The instructor will then ask students to turn these in as the bell rings.




  • Teach using multiple input/output strategies — visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.
  • Use several learning channels simultaneously (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and mnemonic devices for memory). Research findings suggest that hearing, seeing, and saying a word (concept) simultaneously enhances memory.
  • Use visual aids when appropriate.


  • For reinforcement, provide ample time to discover, practice, and use meaningful mnemonic devices, such as songs with specified grammatical sentence structures or special rhythms; reinforce concepts by using acronyms (for example, USA = United States of America), drawings, and gestures.
  • Provide additional practice as necessary.


  • Create outlines or study guides for the students to fill in or follow along with as the concepts are being taught.
  • Teach concepts in a logical progression and help the student categorize concepts.
  • Provide structured, explicit overviews of the material covered. Examples include study guides of the day's activities, summary sheets, graphic representations, and semantic maps.


  • Help the student think about the concept to be learned and to explain the concept in his/her own words.  Knowing why assists the student in learning to develop self-confidence in identifying and correcting his/her own errors.



The Bracero History Archive contains the original oral histories and many more. Many of the interviews are in Spanish. Some have a synopsis of the interview that you can use, or this would be a great opportunity for Spanish speaking students to translate.

Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964, an online exhibition

A Nation of Immigrants, part of the America on the Move Exhibit


Kaye:  Each of us experiences learning through our own lens, through our own history and memories. I hope to make a difference through storytelling about the struggle of immigrant workers. Their story continues today and I strive to help everyone understand the hardworking people who are not mentioned on the newscasts. They are watching at home, shaking their heads and saying “this is not who we are.”

Gordon:  I am inspired when I collaborate with a teacher from a different discipline, because I grow when I work with others. I stretched in this assignment to combine an artist's process and a writer's process. Yet the two of us approach teaching and learning in much the same way. I have seldom seen students as engaged as when they are composing poems or an artwork. I look forward to seeing actual results of student art/poetry journals from our own classes and those around the globe. This process forced us to distill and crystallize a few crucial elements from our border experience and use them to construct a driving metaphor.


Download the microessays from Mullins and Hultberg




Contact Us

R. Joseph Rodriguez &
Ignacio Martinez
UTEP NEH: 2021 Summer Institute for Teachers
(915) 747-7054

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Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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