Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off September 15 and wraps up October 15. This month-long celebration recognizes the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans throughout the country. On September 17, I tuned in to watch a special ABC premiered called “Soul of a Nation’ special, Corazon de America.” The program celebrated the Hispanic culture and the importance of self-identity and pride.

Black and white image of braceros with belongings

Braceros with their personal belongings. (Agricultural Communications, UA2002-044).

While watching the one-hour special, I began to think about the multitude of stories tucked away here in the Archives and Special Collections (ASC) that represent the Hispanic heritage. As I returned to the office the following Monday, I researched various collections and located the Wendell Phillips Thorpe papers. The Thorpe papers captured my interest because they contain material relating to the Bracero Program. Growing up in an agricultural community, my grandfather would tell me his memories of working on a farm where he interacted with braceros. It was amazing hearing his experiences, and I wish I had recorded his recollections, but the importance and the value of oral histories is another post in itself.

While going through the Thorpe papers, I noticed that Wendell was heavily involved within the agriculture industry and held instrumental positions such as serving as the president of the New Mexico Farm Bureau and chairperson of the Doña Ana County Agricultural Labor Committee. Thorpe held these positions during the 1940s while the bracero program was being implemented. The papers contain a wealth of information relating to the program on the national, state, and local level. The Bracero Program was an agreement between the governments of the United States and Mexico which spanned from 1942-1964 where Mexican migrant workers were hired for seasonal periods due to labor shortages created by WWII. In the 1940s, there was a demand for farm labor due to the increased need for food production and many New Mexico farms and ranches utilized the help of braceros. To address the national shortage, many migrant workers traveled to obtain seasonal employment to harvest crops such as chile, cotton, pecans, and other types of agricultural products. Leaving their families behind, the braceros traveled from their native land to seek seasonal employment and were set up with temporary living quarters to undertake and sustain harvesting jobs within the state.

Black and white image of braceros weeding onions

Braceros weeding onions at a farm located in Mesilla. (Agricultural Communications, UA2002-044).

In the Thorpe papers, a telegram dated September 22, 1948, expresses the dire need to obtain braceros to assist as pickers. Another interesting find is titled “New Mexico farmers certified to recruit Mexican nationals.” The document consisted of a list of farmers broken down by county and how many braceros were recruited for each farm. The Thorpe papers provide valuable insight into this guest worker program.

Image of telegram re: shortage of pickers

Telegram regarding picker shortage, 1948. (Wendell Thorpe papers, Ms0050).

It is evident that the bracero program assisted the farming industry while in desperate need until advances in the mechanization of the harvest became widespread. Aside from the Thorpe papers, below are various Rio Grande Historical Collections (RGHC) archival holdings that highlight the diverse holdings relating to the Hispanic heritage of the region:

On a side note, the Doña Ana Community College (DACC) is hosting Hispanic Heritage Month events and my colleague Teddie Moreno and myself will be giving a presentation titled “Pedro Garcia de la Lama: Spanish Language Press and Cultural Identity” at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. The presentation will cover de la Lama, publisher of El Defensor del Pueblo, one of the earliest Spanish language newspapers in Mesilla, and his major contributions and legacy as an advocate for the Liga Protectora Latina, an early civil rights group for Hispanic people in the Southwest.

To learn more or register for the Zoom presentation, email library@dacc.nmsu.edu or call 575-528-7261. For more information about the events, visit https://dabcc.nmsu.libguides.com/latinx.

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