- A Father/Son Bracero Experience
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The interview conducted by Anaís Acosta and included in this issue is an excerpted oral history interview, one item of the extensive Bracero History Archives held at the University of Texas at El Paso’s Institute for Oral History, also available through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History’s online repository, www.braceroarchive.org. The Bracero History Archive is comprised of over 800 oral histories and hundreds of digitized documents, collected from bracero communities across Mexico and the U.S.
Her interview is now provided in English translation to reach additional readers, to demonstrate an account of first-hand perspective about the Bracero experience. The interview includes intimate details of a father-son experience, related by the son, Mr. Juan Virgen Díaz, born in 1943 in Jalisco Mexico, and interviewed by Acosta on May 24, 2006, in Heber, California. Virgen Díaz enrolled in the Bracero Program as an underage teenager in 1961 and continued to receive contracts until 1964. His story focuses on the memories of a child shaped by his father’s work, and absence, as a bracero; he was recruited by his father to enlist in the program, and guided by his father on the process, how to be endure indignities and the painful experience of the fumigation and medical exams at the border.
Mr. Juan Virgen Díaz, tell me, where and when were you born?
I was born in Zacoalco de Torres, Jalisco. I come from humble parents, from a large family. My father and my mother had sixteen children, but of those, [only] nine of us managed to survive; ten, excuse me, we were ten, five women and five men. Two women are older than me. At the age of three, my father brought us here to Mexicali, Baja California. He was one of the first braceros to come when they entered the United States to work. He was given a job on the railroad.
How old were you when your father went to work on the railroad?
Well, I was born in 1943. I still was not born when my father was over here. He already had other children, in other words, my two sisters. I still was not yet born. He came the first time, the first time he came and when he returned, he impregnated my mother, he left her pregnant, right? I was then born in that time; he was already working over here. He came over here to the United States and it seemed easier for him radicate here in Mexicali. Then he brought us all together when I was three years old. We came here with five, five in the family and we were already living there in Mexicali, and he would go to work here or leave, depending where he would get a job. The course of our lives was … very humble. I feel an inevitable pain [about] his death, right? He was always, was very much of a devoted man with us. Despite that we were many, he never left my mother. He would leave, right? But [only] because of his job. We grew up to be very, very close to them. We were happy when we all sat together at the table, when he was present with us, right? And he fed us and we felt very good. We went to school, to kindergarten, and some to elementary school and they were very happy. During [our] childhood, we would help them by working, because we were so many, right? We sold newspapers, and shined shoes. As kids, a younger brother and myself, got to know Mexicali very well. We went to school and after school we would shine shoes, sell newspapers. In the course of our lives as we became young men, I came over here as a...