Immigrant laborers want their rightful place in history recognized at the Mexican cultural epicenter of Los Angeles. They have begun a campaign to erect a 6-foot tall statue of a bracero laborer at El Pueblo Historical Monument, better known as Olvera Street.
Organizers are now trying to raise the money and copper needed to complete the project. People can donate old keys, pennies and other unwanted items made of copper to their effort.
“The statue will have a short-handled hoe in one hand and a [bunch of] broccoli or [head of] lettuce in the other,” the president of Binational Union of Ex-Braceros, Baldomero Capiz, told EGP on Monday.
Braceros, or immigrant laborers, played an important role in building Los Angeles and the local economy, including as guest workers that met the U.S.’s need for outside labor during the war years of the last century.
They are part of the local history, say supporters of the effort to build the new memorial.
Read this story IN SPANISH: Ex Braceros Piden ‘Llaves, Pennies y Cobre’ para una Estatua 
The braceros and their supporters in Los Angeles began their copper fundraising efforts for the statue earlier this year. They conservatively estimate they need $35,000 for the statue and it’s installation.
The design vision and two pre-fabrications have been completed, now they need the materials to make the statue stand tall, Capiz said. But they also need to cut through some red tape at City Hall to get the necessary permits approved so it can be installed, he said.
Capiz said Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar (CD-14), who represents the area, is involved in the statue’s planning and will ask for the council’s support at Friday’s council meeting. Huizar’s father, Simon Huizar Banuelos, and uncles were braceros.
Huizar’s long-time support includes helping the Union Binacional secure a space for their photo exhibit at the Mexican Cultural Institute and on First Street in Boyle Heights, which many people were able to visit during our Eastside Gold Line Extension celebration, according to Huizar’s spokesperson Rick Coca.
“He is supportive of this latest effort to bring attention to an important part of our history that has been swept under the rug for too long,” Coca added.
Last year, the City Council approved Huizar’s motion to declare Sept. 29 as the “Day of the Bracero” in Los Angeles. A similar event will take place Friday, according to Capiz. This will be the 4th annual “Day of the Bracero,” an honor they hope can will one day be a state holiday, he added.
The Bracero Program, which lasted from 1942 to 1967, was a guest worker labor arrangement between the US and the Mexican government. According to historians, as US allies during World War II, Mexican braceros filled labor shortages in the country’s agricultural fields and constructing US railroads.
The braceros toiled the land and harvested the crops that sustained the country and the soldiers abroad, Capiz told EGP.
Many of the now elderly, and in many cases impoverished, former migrant workers have a strained relationship with the Mexican government. The dispute is over a 10-percent deduction taken from their pay and handed to the Mexican government that was supposed to be returned to them, but was not refunded as agreed.
In 2001, a group of braceros won a class action lawsuit that made some of them eligible for a $3,000 payment from the Mexican government, but it only applied to braceros who worked from 1942 to 1946, according to Capiz.
Of the 4.5 million braceros Capiz says are eligible, as of today only about 80,000 on both sides of the border have received their compensation.
Capiz says Mexico does not want to pay the damages awarded and is contesting the number of workers eligible for compensation.
“The Mexican government doesn’t want to recognize the plight of the bracero,” Capiz said, speaking in Spanish.
There are a total of 194,002 Ex-Braceros who were/are eligible for benefits and met documentation requirements, according to Mireya Magaña Galvez, a spokesperson for the Mexican Consulate-General in Los Angeles.
Documentation requirements were very strict—workers were not allowed to use their US Social Security documentation as proof—and there were irregularities and typos that disqualified many of the braceros, according to Capiz.
On Sept. 12, the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles began issuing checks to the former laborers. A total of 1,111 checks will be issued in L.A. and 890 have already been turned over, Magaña Galvez told EGP.
Strained ties resurfaced last week when Mexican President Felipe Calderon was in town and members of the Binational Union of Ex-Braceros were left out of the president’s event. Capiz alleges they were denied the opportunity to register and receive clearance to attend the event. He is calling it discrimination.
However, Magaña Galvez says the men were not discriminated against and were invited to register to attend a week in advance. Capiz disagrees.
While the Union Binacional de Ex-Braceros is associated with the Mexican Cultural Institute (MCI) located at Olvera Street, they are not affiliated with El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, according to El Pueblo Public Relations Director John Kopczynski.
The statue “would commemorate and honor the immigrants from Mexico, known as los braceros, who mark a very important face of Mexican migration,” Armando Vasquez-Ramos, president of the Mexican Culturan Institute of LA told EGP. “Many of those guest workers are still alive and spawned generations of Mexican and Chicano families who make up significant parts of our population today.”
Braceros are “a cornerstone of modern day immigration of Mexicanos to US,” said Vasquez-Ramos, a professor at California State University, Long Beach. His own family migrated to the US in 1961 to join his father and uncles who were braceros, he said.
On Sunday, from noon to 4pm, the Day of the Bracero will be celebrated at Olvera Street, Capiz said.
Pedro Rivera, father of singer and reality show star Jenny Rivera and a former bracero , will be at the family friendly event, he said. The Mexican Cultural Institute will also screen “Cosecha Amarga (Bittersweet Harvest),” a documentary on the braceros’ struggles.
For more information, call Capiz at (323) 710-3696, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook as “Union Binacional de Exbraceros 1942-1967.”