Photo: Mexican Braceros Working on U.S. Railroads
Amtrak, in a partnership with the National Museum of American History, will feature an exhibit at Chicago Union Station that honors the contributions of thousands of Mexicans to the nation’s railroads on National Train Day, May 7, 2011.
The exhibit, open to the public from 11am to 4pm, will highlight the impact the Braceros had in the lives of Mexicans while they participated in the construction and maintenance of the railroads and include a display of tools that were used during that period, audio-visual images and excerpts of interviews with former Braceros.
During the event, University of Illinois Historian Mike Amezcua, Ph.D., will discuss the importance of the Braceros guest worker in the history of the railroads as well as the Mexican migration and settlement in the region. Former Braceros Baldomero Capiz and Pablo Velasquez will join the celebration and share their personal railroad experiences with the audience.
An estimated 14,000 track workers were needed to maintain working rail lines across the U.S. Facing labor shortages caused by World War II, the United States initiated a series of agreements with Mexico to recruit Mexican men to work on U.S. farms and railroads. These agreements became known as the Braceros program, since it is a term used in Mexico for a manual laborer.
In 1943, the first groups of men ventured across the U.S. to work for railroads such as Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, Burlington and many others. Mexican track workers could be found between New York and Maryland, St. Louis and Chicago and from San Diego to San Francisco. More than 130,000 Mexican men were contracted to more than 30 railroads.
National Train Day commemorates the 142nd anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. In addition to the Braceros exhibit, there will be many fun activities throughout the station for the whole family to enjoy. Train cars will be open and other trains will be on display for the public to tour and explore. All activities are free and open to the public on from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Union Station, 225 South Canal Street, Chicago.