Historic photo taken in the 1940s that shows members of the Bracero program using short-handled hoes

Pictured above is a photo believed to have been taken during the 1940s that shows members of the Bracero program using short-handled hoes in a California field. Singer Linda Ronstadt recently came up with the idea of installing a plaque commemorating the program. The plaque will be installed in Stockton on March 31.

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Community Engagement

Linda Ronstadt Purchases Landmark for Stockton

Plaque paid for by singer will acknowledge Stockton’s role in Bracero program
by Patrick GiblinMar 12, 2012

It's not known if famous singer Linda Ronstadt will be able to attend, but her check has already arrived.

Ronstadt, known for such hits as "You're No Good," "Blue Bayou," and "Hurt So Bad" came up with the idea of installing a plaque in Stockton to commemorate participants in the Bracero program, and then personally wrote a check to cover the costs. The plaque will be installed March 31 at McLeod Park.

The Bracero program was a World War II work program that allowed for the temporary importation of workers from Mexico to aid the American agricultural economy by acting as replacement workers for American soldiers fighting in the war. The program lasted until the late '60s and is credited with transforming both the United States and Mexico.

Ronstadt said that she might be at the dedication ceremony but couldn't make a firm commitment due to a packed schedule. Gov. Jerry Brown said he might also attend.

The plaque dedication ceremony is being co-sponsored by the Mexican Heritage Center & Gallery, the American Friends Service Committee Proyecto Voz, and University of the Pacific. The event also will celebrate Cesar Chavez's birthday, as well as commemorate the 1975 California Supreme Court case that eventually stopped the wide-spread use of the short-handled hoe in the agriculture industry. Maurice Jourdane, the California Rural Legal Assistance Attorney that led the legal fight to outlaw the use of the short-handled hoe will attend the event as will former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and the Honorable judge Thelton Henderson.  

Ronstadt's generous contribution will cover the costs for the new commemorative marker, estimated at $800. Officials at University of the Pacific also contributed to the event and helped organize the ceremony. Ronstadt was impressed with Jourdane's story about the fight against the use of the short-handled hoe.  That, and her commitment to worker and immigrant's rights, inspired her to come up with idea for the plaque and then donate the funds.

"We were thrilled when we learned that Linda Ronstadt was donating the plaque," said Arturo Ocampo, associate provost for diversity at Pacific. "The Bracero program is an essential part of the history of the United States, of California, and especially of Stockton. The Braceros' contribution to the economic well being of the region was considered so important to the war effort that they have been referred to as soldiers in the fields." 

The program was created in 1942 because of severe labor shortages in the agriculture industry during WWII. Most men who held the agriculture jobs in the west either volunteered or were drafted into the U.S. military shortly after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. This caused a labor shortage, which led to the Bracero program. Bracero is Spanish for "a person who works with their arms."

The initial group of Bracero workers came to Stockton to harvest sugar beets. The program was considered such a huge success, it quickly spread throughout the western states and into other products, such as oranges, lettuce and other fruits and vegetables. The railroad companies also entered into the Bracero program to help with expansion and maintenance of rails. By 1945, there were 50,000 Braceros working in the agricultural program and another 75,000 in the railroad program.

After the war, the railroad program was ended, but agriculture producers complained that many of the returning soldiers were not coming back to work in the field, as they were taking advantage of the new veterans program that paid for college education or other career training. As a result, the agricultural program was extended every two years until 1964. The number of Braceros recruited to the United States was then reduced every year until the program officially ended in 1967.

By that time, the United Farm Workers of America was organizing to bring rights to agricultural workers. Led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, their efforts led to the 1975 California Labor Relations Act in 1975, which created a new state agency that gave farm workers collective bargaining rights. That same year, the California Supreme Court also ruled that the short-handled hoe, known as the "El Cortito" or "the short one" was a danger to agricultural workers health and effectively outlawed employers from requiring workers to use it. The hoe, which is only 24 inches long, forced the workers to bend and stoop all day, leading to lifelong back injuries.

When Chavez was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2006, a short-handled hoe that was presented to Chavez by Gov. Jerry Brown to celebrate the court victory was entered into the Hall's permanent exhibit.

Linda Ronstadt, who has Mexican, German and English ancestry, has long professed an interest in the culture of Mexico. In the 1970s and 1980s, she released dozens of hit albums and once was named the "highest paid woman" in show business and the "first lady of rock." In 1987, she released the hit album "Canciones de Mi Padre," an album of recordings of traditional Mexican folk songs. That was followed up by 1991s "Mas Canciones," which won the Grammy for "best Mexican/Mexican-American album." Ronstadt also has participated in demonstrations and law suits challenging Arizona's 2010 anti-immigration law

The March 31 event will start with a Prayer Breakfast at 9 a.m. at the Mexican Heritage Center, 111 S. Center St. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased by calling 209.952.0256. The breakfast will be followed by the plaque installation ceremony at noon in McLeod Park at the corner of Fremont and Center streets. The installation ceremony is free and open to the public.

 
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