A Bracero Enters the United States
In this oral history Alvaro Hernández describes how he entered the United States, first as an illegal worker and then as a bracero. Mr. Hernández was born in Jilemes, Chihuahua, Mexico. His father was an agricultural worker and his mother was a teacher. When he was 14, he first entered the United States illegally to pick cotton. Later he joined the bracero program. This interview was translated from the original Spanish.
Mr. Hernández: And one day, another guy and I, his name is Francisco Uribe, finally decided to go over and come to work here in the United States. It was the time of the Second World War, that is, in 1943. And we arrived at the bridge of those days, a simple bridge, up to the booth where the Immigration man was and I asked him where were the trucks that took men from that area to pick cotton and he answered me... There were some trucks waiting for people to take them to pick cotton. And it was our turn to go with a gentleman named Faustino Loya from Mesquite, New Mexico. He took us and there we stayed, there we picked cotton for what was all of November, December, January and even part of February, that year. And I returned to my town and after that first time feeling great earning money in dollars, which lasted long enough, the following year I returned again, that is, in 1944 I crossed the border again. On this occasion...I returned to work, from the cleaning of cotton which happens around May, June and worked all of that year with him, until we brought out the harvest in 1945, in January of 1945.
Interviewer: And tell me how did you become contracted as a bracero, where would you go? What documents would they ask for?
Mr. Hernández: Well, well on that occasion the contracting took place in the city of Chihuahua, in the old train station. Back then, they called it the Trocadero. I don’t know why, that is how it was named. And then it was published in a newspaper that was sold in Chihuahua, it was named, the Heraldo, and I believe it has the same name. And the year 46 which was the first year, we approached and they contracted us, the association name was The United States Agricultural Association, I think.
And from there they would take us on bus to Ciudad Juarez and there we would cross the bridge on foot and they would meet us in a place that was in the same location as Immigration by the bridge. Once there they would do a medical exam, the Immigration, and they tossed some powder on our heads and all of our bodies, because they would undress us to see if we carried any sickness that could be contagious to other people.
The powder on our heads was for the lice, to see if we had lice (laughing) I think during this time my hair began to fall out. And from there sometimes they would take us in pick-ups, in cars. The time I went to Pecos, they took us in a trailer, in a trailer we were going, they took us to Pecos, an open trailer like those for cattle, but very clean, very clean...
Interviewer: And there in Chihuahua, how was The Trocadero?, was it like Government offices, or was it a covered area and nothing more, or was it a few tents?
Mr. Hernández: I don’t remember much about them, but I do remember the office was very organized and there were also people from here from the United States choosing people, they would check all of our hands to see if they were calloused.
Interviewer: This would mean that you were...?
Mr. Hernández: That we were laborers, that we were agricultural workers. It was one of the exams that I remember we had to place our hands out like this and they would grab the calluses. And I remember that, yes they would reject a few that were, office workers I think or something like that, those that did not have that mark. And I was never rejected, all of the times I was contracted I departed able to work. And there was disorder but outside, because there were plenty of people there, there they slept; they slept on, well on what they could and yes I was a bit uncomfortable and sometimes they waited four or five days waiting for their turn, but all else was fine. The disorder consisted in that some of the youth there, youth at that time, I believe they drank their bottle of, their drinks of sotol or tequila, but not that this created major unrest, fights, no!, no, there were none, at least I saw none during my time.
Interviewer: And, How much time did you wait from the moment in which you arrived at the exams and until you where contracted for you to come?, many days?
Mr. Hernández: No, in my case, the three times I was contracted was, well five days. Once we stayed two days here en El Paso in a place called Buena Vista, I believe...[No, it was] Río Vista! There we stayed a day and half. We had already been examined, ready for nothing more than for the bosses to come for us there, but it wasn’t a long wait, they were in much need of workers here and they themselves hurried to put us to work.
Interviewer: And, would they give any vaccines there?
Mr. Hernández: One day only, one day only they vaccinated us in the shoulder and, but only once! For sure it did nothing; it had no effect on me. You see sometimes it swells or something, it had no effect on me and it was for the better, go figure they fumigated us fully clothed and all of this, when we crossed, yes.
Creator | Bracero History Archive
Interviewer | Myrna Parra-Mantilla
Interviewee | Alvaro Hernández
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | Bracero History Archive, “A Bracero Enters the United States,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 12, 2021, https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1658.