A monument honoring the 4.5 million mostly Mexican workers who migrated to the United States under the “Bracero” program of the mid-20th century, and that was originally intended for Boyle Heights, will be built instead in a new plaza celebrating diversity in downtown Los Angeles.
Authorities Thursday unveiled the monument design by sculptor Dan Medina at a groundbreaking ceremony for the 7,000 square feet plaza to be built at the corner of César Chávez Avenue and Spring Street – across the street from El Pueblo de Los Ángeles.
Medina will create the figure of a young worker carrying tools and headed North, next to a kneeling woman holding a child who waves goodbye. The bronze sculpture on a concrete pedestal will rise 19 feet over pedestrians.
“It is fitting that this plaza honoring our City’s immigrant heritage is located right across from El Pueblo de Los Ángeles, the [city’s] birthplace,” said Councilman José Huizar, who became emotional as he told the crowd at the ceremony that his own father and 10 uncles had been braceros.
The sculpture “honors the often forgotten sacrifice that 4.5 million Mexican nationals made to support their families and help our country in a time of need,” he added.
The controversial “bracero” program began in 1942 during World War II when there was a shortage of U.S. workers and ended in 1964, amid complaints of low wages and poor working conditions for laborers who toiled in farms, mines and rail yards throughout the U.S.
The “bracero” monument was proposed to the city by Baldemar Capiz, a former Boyle Heights resident and member of its neighborhood council who presides the Unión Binacional de Exbraceros, a group that represents the workers, their widows and their heirs. His original idea to have the monument at Hollenbeck Park did not garner sufficient community support, but it was adopted by Huízar, who suggested a location on or near Olvera Street.
At its new location, Medina’s sculpture will be the centerpiece of a plaza reflecting the city population’s diversity, with quotes by prominent figures from various ethnic groups incorporated into its design.
The plaza, part of a $3.2 million streetscape and pedestrian improvement project along César Chávez Avenue, will be in front of a new mixed-use, 355-unit housing development that will include 20% affordable housing. Developer Trummell Crow supports the plaza and Bracero statue, authorities said Thursday.
Construction for the plaza is expected to begin in April and the work should last nine months. When told that the sculpture may be ready to be installed in November, Huízar suggested the date should be moved to August, when a bracero holiday is celebrated.