A Monument to Migrants

Sculptor Dan Medina stands next to his Bracero Monument, which will be installed at the soon-to-open Migrant's Bend Plaza near El Pueblo on Sunday, Sept. 29.

Over two decades during the middle 20th century, millions of Latin Americans grabbed their belongings and left their homeland, heading north to towns and cities across the United States in search of work and new opportunities.

They were part of the bracero program, a controversial collection of laws and agreements that began in 1942 during World War II to address a countrywide shortages of mine, farm and railroad labor. The program saw an estimated 4.5 million mostly Mexican nationals migrate across the border but many were met with poor working conditions and low wages.

The program was terminated in 1964, but the cultures and experiences of those men continued to play a tremendous role in the development of the nation, especially Southern California cities like Los Angeles.   

On Sunday, Sept. 29, the sacrifices of the braceros, alongside other immigrant communities, will be celebrated during the dedication of Migrant’s Bend Plaza, a new 7,000-square-foot commemorative space on the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Spring Street. The dedication will begin at 2 p.m. and will include performances from Ozomatli, Los Rieleros, Pedro Rivera and others.

“The opening of the Migrant’s Bend Plaza is a celebration honoring the many contributions immigrant communities have made to the City of Los Angeles,” 14th District City Councilman José Huizar said in a prepared statement.

The plaza is part of an ongoing $3.2 million streetscape and pedestrian improvement project along César Chávez Avenue.

A Sign of the Times

To celebrate the contributions of migrant communities, the plaza features quotes from prominent figures across a wide range of ethnic groups. The centerpiece of the plaza is a 19-foot monument to the braceros designed by local sculptor Dan Medina.

Set to be revealed during the event at 7 p.m., the bronze sculpture features a young bracero with tools in hand taking a break from fieldwork to think about his homeland and the family he left behind. On his left side of the statue is his wife and son, reaching out to their missing loved one.

Medina, who spent months interviewing and researching for the monument said there is general lack of understanding about the impact of the bracero program. At the base of the monument is a large plaque with background information on the program and its members.

“The history of the bracero is not at the forefront, but there was something surprising to me, whenever I did mention the design or the monument, there would always be someone who would say, my father or my uncle was a bracero,” Medina said. “There is definitely an lineage in L.A. of braceros. It’s just incredible.”

The monument was originally proposed for Boyle Heights’ Hollenbeck Park, but failed to garner the proper community support. That’s when Huizar, whose own father participated in the bracero program during its 22-year-run, stepped in and suggested that the monument be installed next to the now open LA Plaza Village.

The location makes sense. Not only is the monument now located across the street from El Pueblo, the birthplace of Los Angeles, the monument will also be oriented due north, referencing the direction that migrants would have travelled during the height of the program.

Despite its focus on the program’s historical influence, Medina said that it’s difficult to separate the art from contemporary politics.

President Donald Trump has made immigration a primary focus of his administration, calling on a comprehensive overhaul of the southern U.S./Mexico border and changes to the immigration process.

While Medina said that he normally approaches new art pieces from the perspective of improving upon the previous work, this project is more of a legacy statement on immigration that will remain at the plaza for years to come.   

“The timing is right when you think of the shape of our nation. Whether illegal or legal, each person has a story and they are kind of getting a bum rap,” Medina said. “This piece, at least the intent, is that we together, whether black, Asian, Latino, Anglo immigrants, are what makes this country so beautiful.”

The Migrant’s Bend Dedication will be held on Sunday, Sept. 29 at the intersection of Spring Street and César Chávez Avenue.

sthomas@timespublications.com

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