Courtesy of Bracero Cocina de Raiz
“The Mexican Labor Agreement” by Daniel Ruanova
There’s been no shortage of hype surrounding the recent opening of Bracero Cocina de Raíz. Chef Javier Plascencia’s Baja-Med menu deservedly gets most of the attention, but another standout part of the restaurant’s design is Tijuana artist Daniel Ruanova’s “The Mexican Labor Agreement” sculpture. The piece is suspended from the ceiling and encased in glass. Ruanova is quick to point out the large mechanical sculpture isn’t named after the restaurant itself, but after an overlooked part of U.S. history that he’s extensively studied for the past year.
“A lot of people don’t know that Cesar Chavez killed the bracero program and made the migrant story a very different story,” says Ruanova, speaking about a labor accord enacted in 1941 between the U.S. and Mexico which allowed Mexican migrants to work in the U.S. “There was a huge deficiency in the United States labor force because of World War II and in Mexico there were millions of able-bodied workers that were about to start a revolution. So both the governments saw a perfect way to help each other.”
With Plascencia and Bracero Cocina co-owner Luis Peña in tow, Ruanova took his research all the way to Stanford University and the Salinas Valley. There, he visited with the families of the bracero program. The resulting sculpture is made from varying metal parts and is built over a cortito , an antiquated piece of farm equipment that laborers used during the program.
“It’s not about national or post-national issues. It’s about how hard work can better your life,” says Ruanova. “It’s an homage to these men who worked their asses off 24-7 and were the foundation for a better life for their families. They helped shape California into what it is today and they don’t get credit for that.”
Ultimately, Ruanova sees the work as just the beginning of a larger Bracero series that will extend to exhibitions, lectures and a documentary film he’s working on with Ignacio Ornelas. He’ll be speaking about this work at a guest lecture on Friday Nov. 6, at San Diego State University at 5 p.m.
“The sculpture is just one thing; one symbol. This is just the beginning and this project is changing the way I look at everything,” says Ruanova. “I hope it becomes bigger than just a show. I see it as something that’s more of a historical project than an art project; something much wider, expansive and influential. It’s about honoring history and starting from there.”