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Harvesting Sugar Beets, 1942

Shields Library (Lobby - Entrance)

September 9, 2010 - March 15, 2011

F. Hal Higgins, a prominent journalist for Agricultural publications in California, photographed Mexican Farmworkers entering the United States under the first formal agreement between the United States and Mexico. In 1942, he was asked to promote and document the importation of Mexican guest workers, who helped with harvests during an ongoing agricultural labor shortage, by writing articles and taking photographs. This collection of photographs is an extraordinary look at the optimism and promises the Mexican guest workers brought to California Agriculture. The UC Davis Special Collections Department holds the F. Hal Higgins collection, one of the largest and most significant agricultural technology history collections in the United States. His descriptions were purposely very positive in order to publicize the success of the program and to ensure its continuation. These early images were chosen to highlight the optimism that the Mexican guest workers brought to the sugar beet farmers as they struggled to harvest their record breaking crop. The photographs will be of particular interest to ethnic and agricultural historians. Later known as the “Bracero Program”; Mexican guest workers came to the United States out of desperation for work at a time when the United States was desperate for farm workers to replace those men who were fighting in World War II. The agreements guaranteed payment of at least the prevailing area wage; employment for three-fourths of the contract period; adequate, sanitary, and free housing; decent meals at reasonable prices; occupational insurance at employer’s expense; and free transportation back to Mexico at the end of the contract. The Bracero Program was controversial. Most historians believe farmers ignored the rules, benefiting from the Mexican nationals desperation for work. Mexican nationals believed they were underpaid and seen as cheap, plentiful labor. Books and articles from the library’s collection provide an opportunity for further reading.

harvesting, sugar beets, higgins, bracero program