Three original dances by Northwestern Faculty member Joel Valentin-Martinez will be performed March 13-16.Submitted photo

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A dance to be performed at Northwestern University honors the millions of Mexicans who participated in the Bracero Program – and the family members they left behind – and conveys the bittersweet story of people caught in the whirlwind of the emergency farm and railroad program initiated by the United States and Mexico during World War II.

The work is one of three original dances choreographed by Northwestern theater faculty member Joel Valentin-Martinez that will be performed March 13-16 in “Brazos y Abrazos” (“Arms and Embraces”). The production is part of a series of events related to “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964,” a traveling exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History at Northwestern.

Initiated in August 1942, the Bracero Program allowed tens of thousands of Mexicans to work as temporary contract laborers in the U.S. to fill labor deficiencies in agriculture and railroad work. By the time the program was cancelled in 1964, an estimated 4.6 million contracts had been awarded. The Bracero Program is considered bittersweet because of its history of both exploitation and opportunity.

The exhibition will be at Northwestern’s Dittmar Memorial Gallery through March 28, after which it will be on view at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., from April 2- 27.

‘Brazos Y Abrazos’ Performances

“Brazos y Abrazos” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. on March 13 (preview) and 8 p.m. on March 14, 15 and 16 at the Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center, Ballroom Theater, 10 Arts Circle Drive, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. The title refers to the Bracero Program and pays homage to the workers who experienced hardships and often unjust treatment in the U.S. camps and to the wives and children who endured the years-long absence of their husbands and fathers.

Mr. Valentin-Martinez, the youngest of 10 children, was born in Mexico and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. The choreographer’s late father participated in the Bracero Program and in the 1950s spent two years away from his family while picking cotton in Arizona.

In addition to choreography by Mr. Valentin-Martinez, “Brazos Y Abrazos” will feature music by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas.

Besides the piece “Brazos Y Abrazos,” the program will include two other dance works by Mr. Valentin-Martinez:

“Cositas” (“Little Things”), is a playful solo that will be performed by dancer Erin Barnett, wearing an elaborate red dress with a long train inspired by Hollywood’s red carpet. The dance alludes to the small number of Latino and Latina celebrities who get to stroll down that carpet.

Two excerpts from “Tlatelolco Revisited,” a newly revised and darker piece that Mr. Valentin-Martinez originally choreographed for Luna Negra Dance Theater in 2008, look at the immigrant and Mexican experience in America. The dances honor the hundreds of student and civilian protesters and bystanders who were massacred or wounded in Mexico City’s Plaza Tlatelolco in 1968. At the time, it was illegal to protest in public about the lack of jobs, lack of support for infrastructure and government corruption. Following this tragic incident, many Mexicans immigrated to the U.S.

Tickets, which can be purchased online at, are $20 for the general public; $15 for Northwestern faculty and staff; and $10 for students with IDs.