Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
María L. Menchaca was born on November 20, 1942, on a ranch named Corrales de Rábago, in the municipality of Pénjamo, Guanajuato, México; her mother’s name was Natalia Espinoza Herrera, and her father’s name was Antonio Ortega Estrada; she had eleven siblings, two of whom died when they were young; she was left with seven sisters and two brothers; her father, Antonio, worked in agriculture using borrowed land to support the family; in 1942, he enlisted in the bracero program, and he worked in Arizona, California, and Texas on the railroads and in the fields picking carrots, cotton, grapes, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Summary of Interview
Ms. Menchaca describes growing up in a small town; in 1942, the year she was born, her father, Antonio Ortega Estrada, went to Irapuato, Guanajuato, México, to enlist in the bracero program; as a bracero, he labored in Arizona, California, and Texas on the railroads and in the fields picking carrots, cotton, grapes, lettuce, and tomatoes; although María was too young to remember her father being in the program, he frequently spoke of his experiences; Antonio endured being stripped and fumigated out of necessity; oftentimes, he worked from sun up to sun down, which was especially difficult; he slept on a bunk bed in a huge bodega with many other men and was taken to work by bus; although he regularly sent money home, he seldom wrote letters, because he did not write very well; in addition, he also spoke about how he was treated poorly, immigration checks, provisions, and recreational activities, including movies and church services; María also remembers taking a train and going into town with her mother and uncle to cash the checks her father would send; she mentions that there were primarily women and children in town and the surrounding areas, because so many men had joined the program; moreover, the men that did stay assaulted or took advantage of the women; although Antonio was able to save money as a bracero, he suffered greatly.
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Interview with Maria L. Menchaca by Anaís Acosta, 2006, "Interview no. 1156," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.