Silverio Vasquez Rojas
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By the 1960’s the Bracero program still in place, so my father decided to immigrate to the U.S. as a farm worker. My papa was 21 years old. The recruiting office was located in the Presidencia Municipal, where he had to apply to start the selection process. His letter extended by the presidencia is dated August 25, 1961. He would recall being transported in a truck from Jimenez to another city. From here, the men took the train to their next destination: Ciudad Juarez.
My father was admitted in El Paso, TX. on September 20, 1961, as stated in his identification card. My father worked for Duke and Shaw, LTD of Pecos, TX. He would recall his life as a cotton picker and later as a machine operator preparing the fields. He would tell us the story of how the men were stripped of their clothes to be fumigated at the processing center. He told it with such a sense of humor that it made my brother and sisters laugh.
My father had a great memory. He could remember his coworkers’ names and where they came from. He remembered all the men playing cards at night after a long day of work. They lived in a big metal building lined up with bunk beds for the men to sleep. The living quarters were equipped with one stove, where the men cooked their meals. My father recalled making flour tortillas to have for dinner, and for lunch for the next day. Once the cotton was picked from a field, the men would take their belongings and walked to the next ranch to continue their work picking cotton. On one occasion, when the cotton season was over, my father remembered how all the men left and he was the only one left in that metal building. At night he could hear the echoes of the men laughing and talking. He said he was not scared, he knew his Padre Dios was with him.
One night, while operating the tractor, he fell asleep and the tractor kept going until it got to a ditch and got stuck. He had to wait until the next morning when help arrived to pull the tractor out of the creek. He said that he made good friends and everybody was very friendly. I don’t remember my dad telling us stories of discrimination or abuses.
After only a month of working as a bracero, my dad received the opportunity to apply for residency. Duke and Shaw, LTD gave my dad the letters that he would need for his application. However, my dad never applied for residency. My mother says that as a requirement to submit his application, his Mexican documentation needed to be translated to English. This is what stopped my dad to continue his application. Back then, translators were not easy to find, and they cost money, something that my dad could not afford. In a way, I am blessed that he did not do it. At the time he worked as a bracero, he was not married, and he had not met my mother yet. His story would have been different.
In the late 1990’s, my father and all the bracero workers learned that they were owned money from the U.S. and that the Mexican government had their money. Finally after a long process, my father received his money on November 17, 2009 in Delicias, Chihuahua. With no explanation, the braceros had to turn in their identification card. Luckily, my dad kept a copy of the card. He also kept the original letters and other documents from his time as a bracero worker.
My papa passed away on July 19, 2015, he was 75 years old.