Summary of Interview: Mr. Guzmán briefly discusses his family, childhood, and adolescence; in 1956, he enlisted in the bracero program at a contracting center in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, México, and he later went through a center in Monterrey, Nuevo León, México; as part of the hiring process, he had to have a letter of recommendation from a judge or authority stating that he was a good worker; in addition, he was physically examined, and he had to give blood samples as well; as a bracero, he worked in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, picking beets and cotton; he goes on to describe the various worksites, a typical work day, housing, living amenities, provisions, payment, and recreational activities; overall, he was treated well by his employers; he spent his longest time working in Pecos, Texas, on a small farm with about thirty to forty workers; although he was never in need of medical treatment, he knew of others who were taken to see a doctor by the foreman; moreover, he states that he kept in contact with his family via letters, and he sent money home every eight to fifteen days; he continued working on and off with the program until 1962; later, in 1969, he immigrated to the United States, and he ultimately brought the rest of his family with him in 1976; his memories of the program are positive, and he is proud of having worked as a bracero; he concludes by commenting that his experiences ultimately changed his life, because they are what made him decide to permanently live in the United States.
[Mins 1:31-3:05; Early Life] Luis had eight siblings. Today some are living in Mexico and others in the United States. He was a student until secondary school where he learned to read and write. Luis helped around the ranch while attending school, planting corn, tomatoes, beans, onion, and peppers. He also worked to help irrigate the farm.
[Mins 3:06-4:13; Work Experience Overview] Luis considers the work he did with his father to be the first work experience he had. His first paid job was when he came to the United States. He explains that the bracero program was very well-known in Mexico, and briefly explains how one became a bracero. Braceros were given initial work contracts of about 45 days, and U.S. employers could decide to extend the contract if he/she like the work the bracero was doing.
[Mins 4:14-5:50; Bracero Experience Overview] Luis says that he and the other workers were always referred to as “braceros.” He remained unmarried from the time of his first contract in 1956 until 1959, and was married in 1960. Luis continued to work in 1961 and 1962 was the last year he worked in the United States. He explains how one became eligible for the bracero program. His first contract was through Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, and later he was contracted through Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Once contracted, braceros took a train across the U.S.-Mexico border.
[Mins 5:51-9:14; Processing] Workers brought necessary documentation to the processing centers. There, they were given a series of examinations and were sent back if they were not in good health. The job requirements and details were explained to the braceros before the signing of contracts. Individual bosses handled accommodations differently. When he was first processed in Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico, he crossed the U.S.-Mexican border through the Paso Texas. From Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, he crossed through the Paso de Alguila. He recalls that one suffered at the processing centers. Some had to sleep outside because they could not afford the dormitories. People would stay at the processing centers from one to 15 days, and they were responsible for feeding themselves.
[Mins 9:15-10:27; Entering the U.S.] When braceros crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, they were well-received. The language barrier was a challenge but some employers knew a little Spanish. Braceros then waited at association centers to be picked up by their employers. Associations were usually not in cities but were camps unto themselves.
[Mins 10:28-12:29; Bracero Employment] Luis’ first job was picking cotton, which he chose and really enjoyed because it allowed one to work at his own pace and make as much money as his abilities would allow. Luis’ boss would take him to buy his own food on the weekends. He worked officially as a bracero for about six years, including time between contracts. His first job was in Pecos, Texas, then he worked near McAllen, Texas, then in Mexico, then in Amarillo, Texas, then in New Mexico, again in Amarillo, Texas, and his final contract was in Fort Morgan, Colorado.
[Mins 12:30-14:44; Work Life] In Colorado, Luis harvested beets. Contracts ended with the end of the harvest. Luis spent the most time in Pecos, Texas, where he worked on small farms which employed 30 to 40 braceros at a time. The large barracks and bunk-bed sleeping arrangements always kept the braceros together, so they became friends. Luis’ farms never employed undocumented workers. He had a decent relationship with his bosses, and he neither experienced nor witnessed workers being treated poorly. He says no Mexican authorities ever came to his camps.
[Mins 14:45-15:59; Family] The telephone at Luis’ ranch was too expensive to use so he and his family communicated through letters every eight to fifteen days. Luis speaks about how money was his reason for becoming a bracero.
[Mins 16:00-19:14; Daily Life] Luis usually worked five days a week for about eight hours a day. He explains that cotton picking did not necessitate a set schedule but work usually began around six or seven in the morning. At his camp, four or five people would share a stove to cook Mexican food with. His furnished barracks also had bathrooms and electricity. In the large barracks, one could always hear singing at night. Everyone went to sleep at around eight or nine at night. Clothes were washed by hand. Employers took the braceros to stores to buy personal items.
[Mins 19:15-21:55; Wages and Health] Braceros were paid $25 to $30, and sometimes $40, each week in cash. Sometimes braceros were paid on the spot after weighing-in the cotton they picked. Of his wages, Luis kept only what he needed to live and sent the rest home to Mexico. The bosses would mail letters and cash for the braceros. Luis was not able to save a lot of money for himself. Braceros were usually paid the same hourly wages. There was never a time he was not paid the right amount or had money withheld by his employer, nor did Luis ever need to see a doctor. Other people experienced such ailments as the flu or appendicitis. Managers were always around to help and employers would take people to the doctor when necessary.
[Mins 21:56-23:00; Discrimination] Luis says he did not encounter discrimination but that the language barrier made things very difficult. He remembers others feeling that they were discriminated against but he did not experience it first-hand. He illustrates this by saying that if the weight of the cotton was ever recorded incorrectly or weighed incorrectly, the case would be investigated and everything would be fixed.
[Mins 23:01-25:30; Leisure and Recreation] Luis says there really wasn’t ever substantial time to relax because one always wanted to keep picking more cotton and keep making more money. Sometimes on Saturdays, when there was no work, braceros would go to the movies. They listened to the radio which had some Spanish stations. Nearby towns had churches to which the braceros would walk in groups. The townspeople usually did not know any Spanish. Luis does not think they had off for Holy Week or Christmas. Braceros could leave their jobs before their contracts were over for emergencies only. His longest contract was three months long.
[Mins 25:31-26:40; Subsequent Contracts] When a contract was up, the employers would provide the means and method of transportation back to the Mexico-U.S. border. Luis had generally long breaks at home between contracts.
[Mins 26:41-27:37; Migrating to the U.S. Permanently] After the bracero program, many others migrated to Chicago, Illinois to live. Luis first came alone, and eventually brought his wife in the mid-1970s. He worked in restaurants and with a railroad company.
[Mins 27:38-End; Final Thoughts] To Luis, “bracero” means “worker.” He indicates that it was a fine experience. It changed his life in that it paved the way for him to make his permanent move to the United States.