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Many braceros still fighting for lost wages

KPCC's Brian Watt and Quyen Lovrich had a story last night about the continuing struggle of elderly ex-bracero guest workers trying to obtain lost compensation from the Mexican government.

Some 4.6 million Mexican workers were employed as agricultural guest workers in the United States between 1942 and 1964 through what was known as the Bracero Program.

A portion of the braceros' wages was set aside for them decades ago in savings accounts for when they returned home as part of a binational agreement. A 2001 class-action lawsuit to force the disbursement of these savings resulted in the court approval of a settlement in 2008. Some braceros have already been compensated, the organizers of a protest outside the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles said yesterday, but there are tens of thousands of former laborers who are still owed. From the story:

The bracero program was a deal between the United States and Mexico that started during World War II. To address a labor shortage, tens of thousands of Mexican men like Juan Javier Jimenez traveled north of the border to work on farms or railroads.

"I worked in Salinas, picking lettuce." said Jimenez, now 73-years-old and living in Los Angeles.

He also worked as a bracero in Arizona from 1956 to 1959. The Mexican government put 10 percent of the braceros’ wages into savings accounts for later use. Some braceros received their savings, but Jimenez and about 35,000 others are still waiting. Some have died.

Juan Jose Gutierrez, an immigrant right activist who direct the group Vamos Unidos, said he planned to meet with the acting Mexican consul general next week.

Among many ways in which the braceros' legacy has been documented is an award-winning film, “Harvest of Loneliness,” which won for best documentary at last year's Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival.

The film featured interviews with ex-braceros and their families, some of which are in the trailer: