During the Second World War, with industrial resources bent toward the war effort, the US suffered a dangerous shortfall of farm and railroad workers. From 1942 to 1964, the federal government, in partnership with Mexico, oversaw one of the largest foreign worker programs in US history. It was called the “Bracero Program,” from the Spanish word for manual labor. Between 1951 and 1964, Rio Vista Farm, near El Paso, Texas, accepted more than 80,000 Mexican workers per year. The contractual time, wages, and transportation of workers were documented at these sites after they underwent medical and psychological examinations, which often included fumigation with DDT. Approximately 4.6 million braceros went through the system over a 22-year period.
Artist Adriana Corral, with assistance from the National Trust Foundation and historian David Romo, has spent several years preparing to erect a site-specific installation at the historic Rio Vista Farm, titled “Unearthed: Desenterrado.” The work, curated by Cortney Lane Stell and produced by the Denver-based traveling museum Black Cube, is composed of a 60- by 40- foot flag. On each side of its semi-translucent white cotton support, a single eagle is embroidered: the Mexican golden eagle on one side and the American bald eagle on the other, claws connecting. Artist Vincent Valdez, who collaborated on the idea and design, told Hyperallergic in an email:
The historic usage of the eagle as nationalistic and patriotic symbols are used to evoke power, aggression, invulnerability and triumph. In this case, two eagles caught dueling in mid-flight speak to the tangled love and hate relationship between the neighboring countries.
It symbolizes the monumental contributions made by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the US, and captures a neglected narrative in American history. Corral discussed the project with Hyperallergic.
Hyperallergic has an in-depth article and interview about this project, and the history of the Bracero Program, along with more images. Click on over to read all about it.