A flatbed truck converted into a bus carried 55 braceros – farm workers on temporary visas – from labor camp in Chualar to celery fields in the Salinas Valley on September 17, 1963. The bus collided with an oncoming train, killing 32 and leaving the rest mangled and injured.
The tragedy in Monterey County garnered national headlines and the bracero program, which was maligned by Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement that rallied around him, was soon killed by Congress. The legacy of the braceros has remained in a cloud since, often remembered by the painful conclusion.
In the narrative of social justice in the fields, the bracero program – which brought more than 2 million men from Mexico to work the land in the United States from 1942 to 1964 – has long been one derided as one that exploited immigrant workers. It was also viewed as bad for domestic workers, who saw their wages decline.