Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
Ismael Rodríguez is the eldest of his three brothers; when he was six years old, his father died; afterward, he and his brothers worked wherever they could; eventually, Ismael enlisted in the bracero program; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of Arkansas, California and Texas, cleaning, pruning and picking asparagus, beets, cotton, lettuce and tomatoes; he later immigrated to the United States, and he was ultimately able to obtain legal status.
Summary of Interview
Mr. Rodríguez talks about his childhood and how sad it was, including his father’s death when he was only six years old; as a young man, he looked for work wherever he could find it; when he learned about the bracero program, he saw it as an opportunity to save money and help his family; in order to join, he had to put himself on the list of eligible workers; as part of the contracting process, he had to present his birth certificate, proof of military service and other documents; in addition, he was medically examined and deloused; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of Arkansas, California and Texas, cleaning, pruning and picking asparagus, beets, cotton, lettuce and tomatoes; he goes on to detail the various worksites, camp sizes, housing, duties, payments, correspondence and trips into town; while in Texas, he worked by contract, which enabled him to stop and rest when necessary; in contrast, when getting paid by the hour, foremen were constantly watching him, forcing him to stay hunched over and not allowing him to straighten up; in Arkansas, he and other men were given small notebooks to keep track of the amount of cotton they picked; in some camps, it was so hot that the men had to take salt pills; moreover, he mentions that his time as a bracero was very lonely, especially because the camps were so isolated from the towns, which left them surrounded by darkness; he later immigrated to the United States, and he was ultimately able to obtain legal status.
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Interview with Ismael Rodríguez by Mario Sifuentes, 2006, "Interview no. 1080," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.