Testimony from a "bracero"

Old bracero card.

Bracero card issued to Jesús Campoya in 1951 in El Paso, Texas.

 

Jesús Campoya Calderón from San Diego, Chihuahua was one of the thousands of "braceros" who worked in the fields of New Mexico and Texas. To apply, the candidates had to travel to Chihuahua City, to the "trocadero," next to the railroad station. The "trocadero" was run by American officers. The main area in the "trocadero" was a line of windows. The first step for the applicant was to be approved at the initial interview in the first window. The applicant would then pass to the second officer for a more extensive interrogation regarding his work experience and show the palms of his hands to the officer. Once approved, he would be sent to the third window to sign his contract and to have his picture taken. A few days later, the workers were transported from Chihuahua City to the border.

The "braceros" waited several days in Ciudad Juárez until their permits were stamped by immigration officers. From El Paso, they were transported to the processing center in Fabens, situated in the El Paso Lower Valley. At the center, they were sprayed with a white powder in order, "To kill the Mexican fleas," or so they were told by a gringo. That evening they ate bread and baloney. "After several days without food, the sandwich tasted like glory...," Campoya said. Afterwards, the farmers arrived to select "their" workers, which were needed in their farms.

"In the farms we would do anything, although our permit was to pick cotton only." They would pick cotton during the day, but in the evenings and on Sundays they would repair fences or paint the farmer's house. However, they were only paid for the cotton picked from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. The picker received $2.10 for 100 lbs. of cotton. The best cotton picker (usually from Coahuila) made about 300 pounds each day. A good picker made $31.40 on a good week. "Sounds low, but then a pair of authentic Levi's pants cost $1.98..."

Once a week, they were taken to the "big town" to buy groceries and cigarettes. Some also used this opportunity to send their money back home. "Because I did not trust the bank, I saved all my money myself. I worked four months, seven days a week, at least 12 hours every day and I took home almost $300 dollars."

"Those were very good days..."

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