Smithsonian exhibit on display at Territorial Prison

Cultural Research Specialist Renee Slider talks about the traveling Smithsonian exhibit “Bittersweet Harvest” about Mexican guest workers, or braceros, Thursday afternoon at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site. Slider’s grandfather came to the United States as a bracero. 

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

A traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian is set to visit the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site this summer.

“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964” is a Spanish/English bilingual exhibit about a Mexican guest-worker program created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1943.

The exhibit opens Saturday and runs through Aug. 11. During that time, it is scheduled to be open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on the lower level of the horse barn. Admission is free Saturday, after which the exhibit is included with the site’s admission fee.

To celebrate the exhibit’s opening, the public is invited to the Bracero Fiesta from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. The free event includes music by Denver’s Mariachi Sol De Mi Tierra, salsa dancers, piñatas with Mexican candy and food vendors.

“We wanted to have a party and open up this Smithsonian exhibit,” Superintendent Deborah Amend said.

The Bracero Program, referring to the Spanish term for manual laborer, was created as a way to fill the labor shortage created in the United States during World War II. The United States initiated the system, also known as the Emergency Farm Labor Program, by which Mexican men were recruited to work on farms and railroads in the United States on short-term labor contracts.

“They would return to Mexico, but they were allowed to come back to the U.S. if they were re-contracted,” Amend said.

The exhibit explores the political, social and economic effects of the program in the United States and Mexico. It features 15 free-standing banners with oral histories, quotes and photographs.

Amend said Wyoming benefitted from the program, as braceros worked in sugar beet fields and on railroads in the state.

“It’s just a way that the United States was able to fulfill the food needs that our country needed and our soldiers needed, and it worked really well,” she said.

The exhibit’s stop in Laramie is exciting because it has yet to visit Wyoming, Colorado or Montana, Amend said. As well, two members of the territorial prison staff have relatives who were part of the program.

“We have a personal connection to this exhibit,” she said.

A mural commissioned by La Radio Montanesa, “Paredes Hablando, Walls That Speak,” will also be on display in the exhibit hall. The mural, by artist Stevon Lucero, was unveiled in 2010 and celebrates Chicano history in Wyoming.

Amend said Wyoming State Parks is working to become more diverse and inclusive, and the exhibit is one way to draw new visitors.

“We have a very diverse audience in the state of Wyoming, and we really wanted to reach out, not only to them, but also to educate everyone else,” she said.

“Bittersweet Harvest” is organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

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