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Nos creemos americanos: Braceros in History and Song

In this activity students write original corridos (a type of Mexican folk song) based on the oral histories of braceros. Before writing their own corridos, students learn about the formulas and themes of corridos and analyze a World War II-era corrido. This lesson works best if students have basic background information on the bracero program.

Objectives

  • Students will compose original corridos (Mexican American folk songs) telling the stories of bracero workers during World War II

  • Students will demonstrate their comprehension of the themes and formulas of corridos by using them to compose new corridos

  • Students will describe the experiences of Mexican braceros immigrating to and working in the United States 

This activity supports the following Common Core Literacy Standards in History/Social Studies:

  • RHSS.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary soure; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct form prior knowledge or opinions.

  • WHSS.6-8.2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events.

Instructions

Step 1: Pass out or display the "Americans All" poster (without its description). (Optional: ask students who the intended audience for the poster is, what its message is, and why it might have been created.) Ask students to share what they know about Mexican and Mexican Americans in the United States war effort during World War II. After showing the poster, give the background of the bracero program.

Step 2: Tell students that two important sources for understanding the experiences of braceros is through corridos (Mexican folk songs) and oral histories of braceros.  Pass out the "Themes and Formulas of Corridos" handout and go over it with students.  

Step 3: Pass out the lyrics to "Corrido of the Uprooted Ones."  Ask students to analyze the corrido by finding the themes and formulas described in the previous handout.  

Step 4: Now tell students that they are going to write an original corrido based on the oral history of a bracero.  They will be evaluated for how well they incorporate the themes and formulas of corridos, as well as how they communicate the individual's story they are reading. Students can write corridos individually, in pairs, or in small groups. To each person (or group) pass out one of the six bracero oral histories. (Optional: pass out various other bracero primary sources to help inspire their corridos).  

Step 5: Display criteria for writing corridos. Have students compose corridos.

  • Using the "Themes and Formulas" sheet, work (with your group) to write an original corrido that tells the events described in the oral history.

  • Use at least 4 of the 7 corrido formulas.

  • Extra credit for writing the corrido in more than one language.

  • Use background information or information from other bracero primary sources for inspiration.

  • Prepare to share the corrido with the entire group.

Step 6: Allow students to read (or sing) the corridos they have composed.    

Historical Context

From 1940 onward, there was a major increase in demand for the United States' agricultural products, as the US became the "breadbasket" to the Allied Powers during World War II. The increased demand was a welcome change to growers after the lean years of the Great Depression. However, even before the US entered World War II, there was a chronic labor shortage in agriculture, especially in the backbreaking "stoop work" of planting, tending, and harvesting vegetables. This work was sometimes dangerous and was the lowest paid; although the New Deal had been generally good for labor, agricultural workers were denied such benefits. After the US declared war in 1941, growers announced a "crisis" shortage of agricultural workers. This was in part because Anglo and African-American workers left the fields to join the armed forces or for higher paying (and less difficult) industrial war production jobs. 

To alleviate the crisis, growers looked to Mexican and Mexican-American workers, who were already known as a hard-working and cheap source of labor. Despite quota laws, agricultural producers had continued to hire Mexican workers in the 1920s and 1930s; immigration enforcement tended to the look the other way when it came to undocumented Mexican workers because cheap labor was so important to overall agricultural output. In some ways, then, the bracero program was a formalization of an ongoing labor practice and migration pattern. 

In 1942 the United States and Mexico signed an agreement that would allow Mexicans to come to the US to work as "braceros" (helping hands). Within two months of the agreement, the first workers arrived in the U.S. The quick turn around indicates the desperate need growers had for workers in time for the 1942 harvest. Thousands of Mexicans who saw the potential economic opportunities and adventure joined. The program lasted until 1964. Throughout its span, the bracero program was an exception to the U.S.'s otherwise strict immigration policy of restricting immigrants from Mexico.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2010.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Nos creemos americanos: Braceros in History and Song,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 11, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1379.

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