Camarillo, Calif., Sept. 19, 2012 – A powerful exhibit created by CSU Channel Islands (CI) students and faculty that presents the history and legacy of Mexican farmworkers known as “braceros” has found a fitting home. “The Braceros of Ventura County” will go on permanent display this fall at Piru’s Valle Naranjal, a new farmworker housing community built on an old bracero campsite.
Built by Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation, Valle Naranjal will provide state-of-the-art rental housing for 66 low-income farmworker families. The community brings new life to the historic site of the Piru Labor Camp, known as “El Campo,” which housed thousands of workers during the largest guest-worker program in U.S. history. From 1942-1964, the bracero program brought more than 4.5 million Mexican workers into the U.S. – more than 20 percent of them to Ventura County.
The CI exhibit documents their stories in posters, photos, replicas, artifacts and interactive displays. A multi-year project of CI Professor of Chicana/o Studies Dr. Jose Alamillo and his students, the exhibit has been revamped to reflect the history and setting of its new home in Piru.
“The location on the site of the former labor camp makes it a living museum that blends the past, present and future,” said Alamillo. “Valle Naranjal is the perfect place for people to learn the history of the braceros, understand how they contributed to the economic vitality of the county, and see the contrast between what was here before and what’s here now.”
Three students in Alamillo’s Chicana/o Studies 499: Community Engagement and Service Learning course spent the spring semester designing and building the exhibit specifically for its new home in Valle Naranjal. Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation provided the students with $10,000 and free reign to alter the Valle Naranjal community exhibition room.
“For us it was a real honor to have them do this work. And they embraced it with open arms,” said Jesse Ornelas, Director of Real Estate Assets & Operations for Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation. “We felt it was a history worth documenting and I think, in the long run, the county will be well-served by it. People will walk out of the exhibit changed. They will see what transpired in the fields of California and in America. Here we have an exhibit that shows what it was and a new development that shows how it should be.”
The students researched the Piru camp and its agricultural identity; recovered and displayed artifacts from its 53-history; interviewed braceros who lived there; and collected stories, photos and mementos from one of its former managers, Mary Guevara, the daughter of a bracero who ran the camp with her husband, Nacho, a former bracero himself.
For CI senior Maria Salas, a Chicana/o Studies and Spanish double-major, the exhibit was a proud and personal undertaking.
“My dad was a bracero and he was my hero,” she said. “He passed away in 2005 at the age of 92. For me, this was such a wonderful way to honor him and all the braceros who changed the face of history. I’m very excited that this exhibit will provide a way for children in our community to learn about braceros and their contributions to our county.”
Valle Naranjal opened to new residents during this past summer. On Sept.29th, the exhibit is expected to open to the public. Alamillo says CI students will begin offering guided tours to visitors and school groups and collaborating on a book about Ventura County braceros in future Chicana/o Studies courses.
The braceros exhibit got its start in 2008, when CI partnered with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History to help preserve the bracero experience. CI faculty, staff and students interviewed and documented the stories of dozens of braceros for the Smithsonian exhibit and also created a separate exhibit that focused on the braceros of Ventura County. Since the student exhibit debuted alongside the Smithsonian exhibit in 2010, it has been displayed at the CI library.
“We are proud of the partnership with Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation that has given this exhibit new life and an ideal venue reuniting it with the community and history from which it emerged,” said Alamillo. “It is our hope that the exhibit at Valle Naranjal will preserve and honor the braceros’ contributions and share their impact and legacy for generations to come.”
For more information, contact Dr. Jose Alamillo, Associate Professor of Chicana/o Studies, at 805-437-2685 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Valle Naranjal, visit http://www.cabrilloedc.org/valle-naranjal.
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