Browse Oral Histories (678 items total)

Lorenzo Perla

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Lorenzo Perla was born in Concheño, which is in the municipality of Ocampo, Chihuahua, México; his father died a few months before he was born, and his mother died when he was only six months old; consequently, he was raised by his oldest sister and her uncle on her husband’s side; Lorenzo worked rather than go to school, and he learned to read and write as an adult; in 1949, he enlisted in the bracero program and completed three contracts; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of Michigan, New Mexico and Texas, picking beets, cabbage, cotton, cucumbers and lettuce; in addition, he worked as a cook and drove tractors.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Perla talks about coming to work in the United States during the late 1940s without proper documentation; in 1949, while working in New Mexico, he was taken to El Paso, Texas to obtain documents through the bracero program; he describes the process he underwent in El Paso, including medical exams and delousing procedures, which made him feel like he was looked down upon; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of Michigan, New Mexico and Texas, picking beets, cabbage, cotton, cucumbers and lettuce, and he completed three contracts; in addition, he worked as a cook and drove tractors; he also goes on to detail the various worksites, housing, accommodations, provisions, duties, contract lengths and renewals, remittances, correspondence, friendships and recreational activities, including trips into town; moreover, he explains that he was so bad at picking cotton he became a cook; the other braceros paid him to cook for them instead of picking; later, he even learned how to drive a tractor, which helped him obtain longer contracts; oftentimes, on his days off, he picked enough to fill his bag and get a head start on the week; he also relays several other anecdotes about his experiences; furthermore, he talks about meeting his wife, who he later learned was the daughter of a man he had previously worked with as a bracero; he was ultimately able to arrange for legal residency with the help of a family member.

Ana María Perla

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Ana María Perla was born December 25, 1936, in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, México; her mother’s name was María Torres, and her father’s name was Teodoro Delgado; she is the youngest of her four siblings; Ana was formally educated through the fourth grade; her father served in the bracero program during the 1940s, and he later passed away in 1951; shortly after, in 1952, Ana married a man who had previously worked as a bracero with her father; Ana was eventually able to arrange for legal status in the United States, and she ultimately became a citizen during the late 1990s.

Summary of Interview: Mrs. Perla talks about her family and the difficult financial situation they faced, which led to her father’s decision to enlist in the bracero program; she remembers getting letters from him to let the family know how he was doing and how much he missed them; her mother even took a family portrait to send to him; Ana was especially excited, because she was able to get a new dress for the occasion; when he returned home, between contracts, he made dolls out of old rags for her to play with; he also enjoyed cooking for the family and making pancakes and tortillas; as a bracero, he became ill and was hospitalized twice; he was then told if he could not work, it was best for him to return to México; shortly after his homecoming, he was hospitalized for pneumonia; he had to have liquid removed from his lungs, and he consequently underwent three separate surgeries; Ana cared for her father, the entire time he was ill; it was a great shock for her to see him so weak and sickly, because he had previously been so big and strong; he eventually died in 1951; later, Ana met a man who had previously worked as a bracero with her father; shortly after, they married, and he continued working as a bracero; before he left, he made arrangements at a store so Ana could continue to get whatever she needed without any problems; although Ana’s husband had a positive experience with the program, she continued to have a negative opinion of it, because of what happened to her father.

Antonio V. Perez Herrera

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Antonio V. Pérez Herrera was born December 27, 1942, in Zináparo, Michoacán, México; he had four brothers and three sisters; his mother was a housewife, and his father was a campesino on an ejido; Antonio later married at the age of twenty; his brother, who had previously enlisted in the bracero program, convinced him to join in 1964; as a bracero, Antonio labored in the fields of California picking cantaloupes and tomatoes; after the program ended, he worked in the United States without documents, but he ultimately obtained legal status for himself and his family.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Pérez recalls his brother working as a bracero and being fascinated when he returned home with new clothes and a radio; Antonio later married at the age of twenty; he taught for a while but did not make very much money, which is why he decided to enlist as a bracero in 1964; in order to get on the list of available workers, he had to pay two hundred pesos; he explains that the fee was imposed by the person making the list, not the government; once on the list, he traveled to the contracting center in Empalme, Sonora, México; he describes the requirements, long waiting times and medical exams he endured at the center; from there he was transported with other men by train to the border at El Centro, California; they were fed and taken to barracks to await departure to their individual worksites; as a bracero, Antonio labored in the fields of California picking cantaloupes and tomatoes; he goes on to detail the various worksites, camp sizes, housing, accommodations, living conditions, provisions, duties, routines, treatment, payments, deductions, correspondence and recreational activities, including religious services; in addition, he recounts other anecdotes about his experiences; after the program ended, he worked in the United States without documents; he explains that he earned better pay this way than as a bracero; in 1978, he obtained legal status, and by 1981 he was able to do the same for his wife and five children; he and his wife later had two more children; although the program ultimately changed his life for the better, he still has distressing memories of his experiences.

Juanita Parra

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Juanita Parra was born May 12, 1955, in Mercedes, Texas; her mother was a native Mexican who left her first husband, because he was abusive; in order to support her seven children, she picked crops in the United States during the bracero program; she later asked Juanita’s father to marry her, which is how Juanita later came to be born in Texas; the family migrated with the crops and braceros to several states, including Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

Summary of Interview: Ms. Parra discusses her family and her mother in particular; while picking crops in the United States, she was often caught and sent back to México, which was especially traumatic; she could hear the bullets flying by as she ran away; her children hid in holes she previously dug, and she would come back for them the following day; she insisted on working, because she was trying to save enough money to begin the process for legal residency for herself and seven children; her sister’s husband was a successful businessman in México, and she asked his brother to marry her; she needed a husband to get her residency papers; the family migrated with the crops and braceros throughout several states; in 1955, Juanita was born at a camp in Texas; the family later settled in Glendale, Arizona; Juanita also talks about her aunt, her mother’s sister, and uncle being responsible for feeding braceros; in addition, Juanita recalls her parents taking her with them to pick in the fields; they often pulled her along as she sat on top of their sacks; when she was old enough she began picking crops as well; she remembers the braceros as very quiet and hard working men; they often worried about their families in México, and some even drank to help them cope; the men lived in barracks or small homes, some of which were not up to par; she also recounts several other anecdotes about living and working with braceros; overall, Juanita sees both the negative and positive aspects of the program; some men were separated from their families for too long and started over in the United States, while others were able to legally immigrate with their families and have a better life in general.

Efren Pacheco A.

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Efrén Pacheco A. was born April 19, 1936, in Ascensión, Chihuahua, México; as a boy, he worked in the fields as did his parents and siblings; in 1956, when he was twenty-one, he decided to enlist in the bracero program; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of New Mexico and Texas cleaning, pruning and picking cotton until 1960; he later worked in the United States without proper documentation; during the 1980s, he was able to obtain legal status for himself and his family with the help of his employer.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Pacheco briefly talks about his family; in 1956, when he was twenty-one, he decided to enlist in the bracero program; he went through the contracting center in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, México, where he waited for roughly ten days; he paid to sleep in a hotel during that time; those who did not have money slept outside; the men were loaded into trains without seats and transported to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México; they were forced to stand, and they did not stop for restroom breaks throughout the duration of the trip; once they arrived at the border, they had to stand in lines and could not move, because they would lose their place; unless they brought food with them or had money, they did not eat; the men were then stripped to their undergarments and deloused with pesticides used for animals, which smelled horribly, before being medically examined; afterward, they used the public restrooms to bathe as best they could, often without towels to clean or dry themselves, before getting transferred to their worksites; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of New Mexico and Texas cleaning, pruning and picking cotton until 1960; he goes on to detail the various worksites, housing, accommodations, living conditions, provisions, duties, treatment, payments, remittances, contract lengths and renewals, discriminatory practices and recreational activities; moreover, he relates several interesting anecdotes about his experiences, including an unsuccessful strike; after the program ended, he worked in the United States without proper documentation, but he was later able to obtain legal status for himself and his family.

Jorge Ortiz Marquez

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Jorge Ortiz Márquez was born in July of 1931, in Colonia San Diego, in the municipality of Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, México; he had four sisters and two brothers; when he was five years old, the family moved to Colonia Juárez, because their mother was very sick; Jorge only went to school for two years before he had to start working to support the family, because his father was badly injured; when he was eighteen, he enlisted in the bracero program; as a bracero, he labored in the cotton fields of New Mexico and Texas for a total of six years; his brother was also a bracero; Jorge later worked in the United States without documents, but he ultimately obtained legal status.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Ortiz talks about his family and what his life was like growing up; when he was eighteen, he decided to enlist in the bracero program; he describes the contracting process he went through in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, México, including the long waiting times and medical exams; from there he was transported in a cargo train to El Paso, Texas; he explains that roughly one thousand five hundred men were transferred daily; once in El Paso, he was taken to a center called Rio Vista, where he underwent further assessments and delousing procedures; afterward, he was fed, but the food had some kind of purgative, because they were all sick and had to stop several times on their way to the worksites; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of New Mexico and Texas for a total of six years; he goes on to detail the various worksites, camp sizes, housing, accommodations, living conditions, provisions, duties, routines, treatment, payments, remittances, contract lengths and renewals, correspondence and recreational activities, including trips into town; in addition, he also talks about his brother, Isabelo Ortiz, who was also a bracero; they worked together in Texas for a widowed woman; Isabelo was injured while working, but he was taken to the doctor and quickly recovered; Jorge wrote letters for Isabelo, because he did not know how to write; after the program ended, Jorge worked in the United States without documents, but he later obtained legal status with the help of his employer.

Manuel Ortiz Orozco

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Manuel Ortiz Orozco was born June 17, 1927, on a ranch in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, México; he was the youngest of his five siblings; his father worked his own land planting beans, corn and wheat; by the time Manuel was seven years old, he was helping his father in the fields; Manuel’s older brothers enlisted in the bracero program, and in 1955, he also joined; as a bracero, he worked in Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas cleaning, pruning, irrigating and picking beets and cotton and caring for livestock; later, in 1969, he immigrated to the United States, and he ultimately became a citizen.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Ortiz briefly talks about his family and childhood; his older brothers enlisted in the bracero program, and in 1955, he also joined; he went through the contracting center in his hometown of Chihuahua, which he explains was called El Trocadero; if men did not have the proper documentation, they had to pay seventy-five pesos; the men were also examined by American doctors and asked questions about working the land; they were transported to El Paso, Texas in trains used to haul metal; consequently, upon arriving, they were all black and dirty; afterward, they were deloused, which he describes as being bathed in poison; they were not given time to clean or bathe before their photos were taken; the men were taken to their worksites in trailers used for cattle, which had seats and were actually comfortable; in spite of their suffering, Manuel recalls that they were happy, because they had work; as a bracero, he worked in Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas cleaning, pruning, irrigating and picking beets and cotton and caring for livestock; he goes on to detail the various worksites, housing, living conditions, accommodations, provisions, duties, routines, treatment, payments, remittances, contract lengths and renewals, friendships, correspondence and recreational activities, including trips into town; in addition, he relates several anecdotes about his experiences with the program until it ended in 1964; during his time as a bracero, he married and had two children; in 1969, he immigrated to the United States, and he ultimately became a citizen.

Eva Ortíz

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Eva Ortiz was born April 5, 1934, on a ranch in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, México; her mother, Teresa Orozco, was a housewife, and her father, Jesús Ruiz, worked on an ejido; Eva was the third born of her five siblings; she was formally educated through the fourth grade and often helped her father work the land; in 1957, she married Manuel Ortiz Orozco and later had two children; Manuel enlisted in the bracero program prior to their marriage, in1955, and he continued after as well; as a bracero, he labored in New Mexico and Texas, picking various vegetables and cotton and caring for livestock; they later immigrated to the United States and ultimately became citizens.

Summary of Interview: Ms. Ortiz talks about her family and what her life was like growing up; as a young woman she began dating Manuel Ortiz Orozco, whom she knew from the ranch where they were both raised; in 1955, he enlisted in the bracero program; she was happy that he joined, because it was of great help, especially given that the harvests were so undependable; they often wrote love letters to each other; when he and other men were gone their fields were abandoned, and the women and children did the best they could; after he returned from his first contract, they married in 1957; they continued living on the same ranch, but were very poor; Manuel renewed his contract three more times out of necessity; even so, he earned only fifty cents an hour, and consequently did not have much to send home; the barracks he lived in often had rats and snakes; Eva stayed with her parents, and a year later, her son was born; she suffered greatly in Manuel’s absence; they were so poor, she had to go to different stores asking for them to extend her credit for food; the other bracero wives all helped each other as best they could and shared what little money they had; many were worried their husbands would find new wives in the United States and not return home; Manuel went home roughly every year; in 1960, their daughter was born; the family later immigrated to the United States, and they ultimately became citizens.

Aristeo Ortega Acuña

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Aristeo Ortega Acuña was born September 15, 1931, in Sahuaripa, Sonora, México; he was the second youngest of his nine siblings; his father was a laborer and also worked with seasonal crops; Aristeo was formally educated through the second grade; when he was fifteen years old, he worked in the fields of Obregón, Sonora, México; in 1957, he enlisted in the bracero program; as a bracero, he labored in Arizona and California cleaning, pruning, picking and loading apricots, lettuce, peaches, tomatoes and other citrus crops; he completed a total of four contracts; after the program ended, he immigrated to the United States; in 1967, he was able to bring his family with him.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Ortega briefly talks about his family; in 1957, he decided to enlist in the bracero program; initially, he signed up in Hermosillo, Sonora, México and then traveled to the contracting center in Empalme, Sonora, México; he recounts the entire process he underwent, including the requirements to pick cotton, necessary papers, long waiting times and medical examinations; as a bracero, he completed a total of four contracts and labored in Arizona and California cleaning, pruning, picking and loading apricots, lettuce, peaches, tomatoes and other citrus crops; he goes on to detail the various worksites, camp sizes, housing, accommodations, living conditions, provisions, duties, routines, treatment, payments, contract lengths and recreational activities, including trips into town; in addition, he details picking peaches, which was especially difficult and dangerous, because of the high ladders they used; men often fell and were injured; despite the skill and risk involved, they were paid very little; he also recounts an incident in Sacramento, California when inspectors went to the camp, because the men were cheated out of their pay; they were transferred to another camp, and their boss was fined and no longer allowed to hire braceros; after the program ended, he immigrated to the United States; in 1967, he was able to bring his family with him; overall, his memories of the program are negative, because it was such a hard life, especially without his family.

Feliciano H. Ordoñez

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Feliciano H. Ordoñez was born June 9, 1930, in Arizona; his father was from México, Distrito Federal, but as a boy he immigrated to the United States during the Mexican Revolution; he met his wife while working in the fields of Texas, and they moved to Arizona in the 1920s; Feliciano was the second born of his nine siblings; they grew up in the rural area of the west valley in Phoenix, Arizona; by the time he was six years old, he was already laboring in the fields; the entire family worked as migrant farm laborers, and his father was a foreman; as an adolescent, he often interacted with braceros while in the fields.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Ordoñez talks about his family and his parents in particular; he also comments on the general Hispanic community in Phoenix; he recalls working in the fields by the time he was six and how the entire family worked as migrant farm laborers, including his father who was a foreman; the bracero program began in 1942, when he was twelve year old, which led to constant interactions with the men; his first impression of them was that although they were not very well educated, they were humble and very hard workers; he recalls that they were well received as they were close to the ancestral roots of much of the working community; even so, they worked in different fields than the locals, because their boss did not want them to know how much less they were earning in comparison; they earned nine to ten cents an hour; in general, they were kept separate and had little if any interaction with the people in the community; there were also discrepancies in the language, and the locals discovered how little Spanish they really knew; because they used the short hoe, they developed a gradual curvature of the spine, not unlike many of the locals; Feliciano also remembers reading articles in the local newspaper about how well the program was going and how much the braceros helped while the local men were off at war; he also recounts other anecdotes and details their housing, accommodations, living conditions and provisions.

Antonio Olivares Samaniego

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Antonio Olivares Samaniego was born February 8, 1929in Bavispe, Sonora, México; he was the fourth born of his five siblings; his mother was a housewife, and his father was an agriculturalist; he was formally educated only through the third grade, because he had to help his father work in the fields; the family later moved to Hermosillo, Sonora, México; during the early 1950s, he enlisted in the bracero program; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of Arizona, California and Washington, picking and irrigating alfalfa, beets, cotton, pears, peas and tomatoes; after the program ended, he worked in the United States without proper documentation, but he was able to obtain legal status shortly thereafter.

Summary of Interview: Mr. Olivares briefly talks about his family; after they moved to Hermosillo, Sonora, México, he heard about the bracero program; during the early 1950s, he decided to enlist in the program; he recounts the contracting process he underwent; although he was not medically examined in México, his hands and arms were checked to ensure that he was able to work; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of Arizona, California and Washington, picking and irrigating alfalfa, beets, cotton, pears, peas and tomatoes; he goes on to detail the various worksites, camp sizes, housing, accommodations, living conditions, provisions, routines, treatment, payment, remittances and contract lengths; in addition, he explains that while in Washington, his boss did not speak any Spanish; as a result, they communicated through signs; in Arizona, he had more contact with his boss, because he did speak Spanish; while there he was also given passes to return to México for Christmas; he also mentions that he worked from sun up to sun down, but he was only paid for ten hours daily; after the program ended, he worked in the United States without proper documentation, but he was able to obtain legal status shortly thereafter; overall, his experiences with the program were positive, because he had work in the United States, whereas in México, he did not.

Margarita Murillo

Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee: Margarita Murillo was born in Pajacuarán, Michoacán, México, on April 19, 1957; her father, Federico Herrera, was previously widowed and had seven children from that marriage; he later remarried and had two daughters, of which Margarita is the youngest; when Margarita was only a few years old, her father enlisted in the bracero program; he labored in the fields and on the railroads; after his time in the program, the family moved to Sinaloa, México, where Margarita learned to work in the fields; she later married, and her father died shortly after; she and her husband ultimately immigrated to the United States.

Summary of Interview: Ms. Murillo talks about growing up with her sister and two half brothers; when Margarita was only a few years old, her father, Federico Herrera, enlisted in the bracero program; he labored in the fields and on the railroads; while he was gone, they stayed with different relatives on her mother’s side, because they did not have a home; her aunt often gave them supplies like food and soap, because they did not have anything; her mother cleaned, washed and sewed to earn money; eventually, her father was able to send enough money for them to rent a small adobe home; although they still lived in extreme poverty, Margarita was too young to know any better and was happy nonetheless; when Federico finally returned home, Margarita did not recognize him, because she was so young when he left; after his time in the program, the family moved to Sinaloa, México, where Margarita learned to work in the fields; she recalls her father talking to her about the sacrifices he made in order to work; when he crossed into the United States, he was stripped and fumigated, which is why he does not have a shirt on in his mica card picture; he also spoke to her in English and told her about his trips into town while working; in addition, he also showed them how to make flour tortillas and other foods; he always wanted the best for her and often encouraged her to come to the United States in the hope of having a better life; she later married, and her father died shortly after; she and her husband immigrated to the United States, and they were ultimately able to obtain legal status.