November 22, 1997

On the Day of The Bracero...

Celebrating the Day of the Bracero was not an easy task. It involved two years of work. First, it was necessary to speak with a great amount of people, refine our idea, and assure ourselves that it would work. Then it was necessary to cover many miles, in order to reach the survivors of that program, which was implemented by the Mexican and United States governments between the years of 1942 and 1964. All this in order to interview them and understand their experiences, their joys, and hardships, their triumphs and defeats, on a first hand bases.

It was important to understand, their living voice, the story of the braceros and we began to comprehend as they related their oral history via the words of the very protagonists of this era.

Arriving in San Pedro de las Colonias in the state of Coahuila and finding people who where involved with the Bracero program was an awakening experience. The city of San Pedro, was at one time a thriving and dynamic city with a flourishing agricultural industry and a growing commercial market . Today it finds itself close to bankruptcy. The functioning municipal authorities there, in desperation to find employment that will fill the demands of the young population and satisfy their needs, are soliciting, with some urgency, the Maquiladora industry. Those in charge of the destiny of San Pedro have given up on the agriculture industry hoping that some how it will absolve all of the economic woes suffered by the municipality, and are prepared to play on this altematum, asking for the maquiladoras. All of this without concerning themselves with the environmental implications this will have, and risking the health of those workers involved.

But perhaps the most significant event that took place during those trips to San Pedro and Pueblito de Allende, Chihuahua, was meeting these ex-braceros. As these ex-braceros related there remembrances of those years, a battery of memories reverberated in there minds. At times tears would appear on those tired eyes slowly trickling down their brown faces pickled by the sun.

In Pueblito de Allende, Chihuahua circumstances similar to those effecting San Pedro in Coahuila where happening. We found aging ex-braceros, in economic ruin, suffering from deteriorating health, heavy with the burden of not knowing what they would eat the next day, or where on earth they would find enough to buy those medications just to live a little bit longer.

As time transpired, the idea of finding a way to recognize the efforts made by these Braceros; that during the Second World War revitalized North American Agriculture and who were sent back to Mexico denied of any responsibility due to them, we continuously interviewed a number ex-braceros, primarily on audio cassette tape and then with video cassette cam corder. Still others who agreed to participate sent in documents dating back to those times, like identification cards, work contracts, letters,and photographs, all of this contributing in building a record in which each and every bracero has his own file. From this record we have calculated approximately 303 contacted ex- braceros, residing in the states of Coahuila and Chihuahua.

As the agreed upon date to celebrate the Day of the Bracero approached, the goings on at the Centro de Trabajadores Agrícolas Fronterizos multiplied. Not only did we have to deal with the everyday routine it was now also necessary to prepare for this celebration and guarantee that it was a worthy homage to the Braceros.

As the day arrived, the assembly hall in the center looked splendid. The tables for our invited guests were adorned with red table cloths with a bouquet of flowers placed in their centers. The sound system and the visual equipment where ready and willing to contribute to this symbolic act. The staff gave the finishing touches to any last minute details, while in the kitchen a number of volunteers prepared the food, which would be served soon; chilaquiles rojos, brisket, and beans for lunch, and delicious pozole Jalisco style, for dinner.

Carlos Marentes initiated the event by welcoming the guests, that according to the newspaper "Norte de Ciudad Juárez", numbered at about 250 people. There where also a number of ex- braceros present, more than 50 of them shared the tables with other invited functionaries in this act. Then engineer, Cosme Rappa, of the directive council, spoke on the importance of the vindication of farm workers, where these ex-braceros who are presently going through some tough times and in need of assistance would be recognized and if possible indemnified.

Enrique Lomas director of the Center for Information and Migratory Studies (Centro de Información y Studios Migratorios), used the spoken word to convey the pain and the suffrage of those who where at one time braceros, according to what they themselves had related to him. He finished his eloquent speech by challenging every one in attendance to support this project to recognize these braceros.

The handing out of diplomas to the braceros present that day was an emotional event. In charge of this task was Alicia and Carlos Marentes, Cosme Rappa, and Enrique Lomas.

After this ceremony, the Folkloric Ensemble of Ciudad Juárez, entertained the guests with the performance of two dances, the first piece was reminiscent of southern music and the second piece, a classic musical number from Jalisco, the soil in which the "Jarabe Tapatio" was born.

That memorable Dia del Bracero was the official beginning to a noble and just project, that we hope will be supported by both the United States, and Mexican people.

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