Browse Oral Histories (737 items total)

Description:

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.

Description:

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.

Description:

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.

Description:

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.