The film depicts the program using inhumane treatment of the workers, mainly recruited from Mexican rural areas. From the overcrowded staging areas to processing facilities, Mexican workers were scrutinized and fumigated before being assigned to work in produce farms in California and the Southwest. Then they were forced to work long hours without proper food, water, shelter, or medical care. The promise of receiving higher wages than paid in Mexico was largely unfilled.
After the screening at UMKC, a student interviewed a local resident Pedro Carrillo, a former bracero, who provided a first-hand account of the maltreatment of workers in the program.
The day after the film I mentioned the program to a first generation Mexican-American at my workplace. He quickly added that his father participated in the program, mentioning how it was nothing short of "legal slavery." Further he stated that his father had not received the agreed upon wages through the Mexican government decades later.
While the film highlights the maltreatment of the workers, the discussion after with Gilbert Gonzales, the filmmaker, reinforced important points of the film, namely:
- The Bracero program, a joint agreement between the US and Mexican governments, loosened pressure from farmworkers and laborers on the Mexican government, thus allowing the Mexican ruling class to avoid a structural change to provide more for the population.
- A new guest worker program discussed in the US government and legislature would not improve conditions for today's farmworkers.
- Because of NAFTA and other "free trade" agreements, conditions in the Mexican countryside are dire for workers and families.
- U.S. food growers and processors can get away with maintaining a powerful attraction to work in the US because Mexican workers are desperate to maintain a minimal quality of life. American companies profit highly from cheap farm labor, which is still highly dependent on manual labor.
The sponsors of the film screening include MEChA (Movimiento Estdiantil Chicano del Atzlan) at UMKC; The Institute for Labor Studies; The Office of Diversity, Access & Equity-UMKC; and The Cross Border Network.