Braceros: Three new shows at Napa Valley Museum explore their story and legacy

Braceros: Three new shows at Napa Valley Museum explore their story and legacy


Napa Valley Museum launches its fall season of exhibitions on Sept. 2, with:

— a touring history exhibit about the Braceros contract worker program from the Smithsonian Institution.

— a companion exhibit telling the Napa Valley’s own Bracero story through rare historical and original material developed by Napa Valley College and curator Oscar Aguilar.

— the West Coast premiere of towering paintings by Colorado artist Don Coen celebrating today’s migrant farm workers.

“The Napa Valley Museum’s presentation of these three exhibitions is happening in exactly the right place at precisely the right time,” said Museum Executive Director Laura Rafaty.

‘Bittersweet Harvest’

Rafaty said Napa Valley is the final stop for the traveling exhibition Braceros from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, titled “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964.”

It will be in the History Gallery from Saturday through Nov. 12.

This bilingual history exhibit examines the experiences of Bracero workers and their families, providing insight into Mexican American history and historical background to current debates on guest worker programs. The exhibition combines recent scholarship, photographs from the Smithsonian’s collection, and audio excerpts from oral histories by former contract workers.

‘Braceros: The Napa Valley Story’

The curator for the companion local exhibition on Napa Valley Braceros is Oscar Aguilar, a Napa artist admired for his work with Nimbus Arts and for his own evocative paintings and sculpture. Aguilar: “I am glad to be involved because I am from Mexico and this is another opportunity for me to discover the other side of the face of the workers, especially now, at this moment in history,” Aguilar said.

The history and legacy of the Napa Valley Braceros, includes rare local material developed by the Napa Valley College team, led by cultural geographer Sandra Nichols, history teacher Jim McGowan and his students, with additional content from the Napa and St. Helena Historical Societies and the Napa County Library.

The exhibit gathers artifacts, photos and testimonials from residents with ties to the Bracero Program, the braceros themselves, and the family members and neighbors who followed in the braceros’ footsteps.

“The exhibit will set the scene in World War II when braceros helped save Napa Valley’s agriculture, focuses on four of the many Mexican hometowns that sent braceros to work in Napa, and explores the bracero legacy as it lives on in Napa Valley today,” explains Oscar de Haro, Napa Valley College vice president for Student Services and assistant superintendent, who is the descendant of a Bracero worker.

“The scholars at the Napa Valley College are creating an unforgettable companion exhibit including personal mementos, rare photographs, and recorded oral histories recounting the Braceros’ extraordinary Napa Valley’s history,” Rafaty said. “So many of our visitors seek out the museum to learn more about the history of the Napa Valley, and these three exhibits will provide a view — from the 1940s to today—of the workers who have been, and still are, are essential to our Napa Valley economy, society and culture.”

It will be at the museum through Nov. 12.

‘The Migrant Series’

Over two decades, Colorado artist Don Coen has spent hundreds of hours in the fields of California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas and Florida alongside the workers, painting his subjects in a photo-realistic, which the artist calls “cinematic.” The collected paintings comprise a towering tribute to migrant workers, and invites viewers to “meet the real people behind the food you eat.”

“We are so proud to be presenting the West Coast premiere of Don Coen’s grand paintings, which shine a spotlight on today’s migrant farm workers against the backdrop of modern immigration policies.”

“I am very excited to have my work being shown at the Napa Valley Museum,” Coen said. “Many of the images I took over the years were from up and down the coast of California. Three of the 15 paintings are subjects from California. The migrants are an important part of the agriculture history of California and deserve to be seen in your state giving the people there an opportunity to see them up close and personal.”

Don Coen’s “The Migrant Series’ will be at the museum through Oct. 29.

Visit the museum

The Napa Valley Museum is at 55 Presidents Circle in Yountville, and is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The second Saturday of each month is a “Family Fun Day” when you may pay what you wish. For more information, call 707-944-0500, email, or visit website at

Museum admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and children 16 and under. Museum members, active duty military, and residents of the California Veterans Home receive free admission.

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