Hispanic Business and Bracero Workers
Contributor is Creator
I am Refugio I. Rochin, Professor Emeritus of UC Davis and Santa Cruz and native of San Diego County. I was born in May 1941 and worked with my father who was under contract to provide Bracero Labor camps with food and related provisions from 1941 through 1964, the year the program ended.
I believe that little has been written about the relationships developed between Bracero hosting corporations and U.S. service providers, especially Hispanics (Mexican-Americans) in business. I am writing to make sure that the Bracero story is told in terms of its spin-offs, corporate ties and the impact of Bracero contracts in San Diego county.
For example, Sunkist and avocado growers (also called associations) developed camps and facilities for Bracero workers in San Diego county to live in during the time they harvested and processed vegetables, avocados, oranges and lemons.
The camps they developed would hold (by my recollection) 25 to 300 workers each. Relatively large camps were located in Fallbrook, Vista and Escondido California. Each camp was built of wood and appeared to be modeled like US military barracks. The workers (all men) slept in bunk-beds, closely lined with boxes for each for personal items.
Workers used open showers and did their laundry - much like soldiers of their day. Workers ate together in "mess-halls." They used metal trays for food and regular glasses for drinks. The quality of food varied by camp, cooks and staples provided by the companies. Camps that specialized in "Mexican food" kept their workers content. Camps that did not serve Mexican food experienced some protests and worker flight.
I know this from personal experience. My father was one of the first contractors in San Diego county who worked successfully for Sunkist growers, serving Mexican food with fresh tortillas, lots of beans and rice and meat. The camps served by my father often had workers from other camps seeking "sanctuary" at the Sunkist camps.
My father developed a wholesale business called C&R Provisions in Oceanside. He learned from personal experience as an immigrant farmworker (beginning at 15 years of age) the importance of home cooking and service.
The 'C' in C&R stood for Castorena (Manuel) and the 'R' for Rochin (Refugio).
Manuel Castorena (Spanish origin) was my fathers friend and our neighbor. He became the first mayor of Carlsbad California - also the founder of Carlsbad's acclaimed school for gems.
Refugio Rochin (my father - born in Sinaloa Mexico in 1908) was a wholesaler of Mexican produce and owner of Mexican grocery stores and restaurants. Through the restaurants he befriended (mostly through the Rotary Club) some of Sunkist's executives. One, in particular, Roy Workman, who was married to a Mexican, was responsible for contract workers. Roy liked my dad and handled my dad's special contracts with Sunkist.
Together, C&R and Sunkist developed contracts to feed workers at Sunkist labor camps. C&R Provisions also picked up several other farm labor camps in San Diego county.
The business relationship led to C&R becoming a successful operation, supplying Mexican food and related supplies (e.g corn husks for tamales, spices, tortilla presses) in the region.
I can relate more since I started working with my father in C&R from the time I was 10 years old. I was born in May 1941. When I was 16 - 1957 - I had my own delivery route and went to camps in Fallbrook, Vista, San Marcos and Escondido.
I also delivered to my father's close friend - actor Leo Carrillo. He purchased my fathers' specially aged prime rib and Mexican food for his parties and friends - some I met were old time movie stars, Conrad Hilton, and corporate executives. At the time, Leo was always in the Rose Parade and rode his beautiful gold stallions, all dressed with silver saddle, etc. For verification, contact: Gerry Streff. Visit:
Leo Carrillo was referred to as Mr Republican. My father was a Republican and my mother a Democrat - mostly because of social ties, not because of political agendas.
The Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University published booklet that my mother wrote, covering aspects of the Rochin business and bracero program. It lends credence to my account above. It also shows the affect of my father's work and friends in her life. She provides another perspective of the Mexican business community, beginning with her birth in 1913 in Colton California.
Let me know if you have questions or interest in other Bracero related work. I can relate, for example, how la migra (US border patrol) raided our restaurant and harassed our Mexican workers - legal or not. This story continues today.
Refugio I. Rochin, PhD
Professor & Research Director, Emeritus, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz
Founding Director, Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives
rrochin at ucdavis.edu