Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
Mr. Juan Topete was born on June 1, 1926, in Mascota, Jalisco, Mexico; he did not have a relationship with his father and he had a tumultuous relationship with his mother; as a young boy, he helped his family by working in the fields and caring for animals; he left his home at a young age and consequently never received any formal schooling; he had four half-brothers and two half-sisters; he traveled to the U.S. and was employed by the railroad; in 1960, he became a bracero and worked primarily in the fields of California; his last bracero contract was in 1964; he later immigrated to the United States.
Summary of Interview
Mr. Topete recalls the humble beginnings of his childhood and how much he suffered; at the age of eighteen he and Margarita Becerra set out to Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico; along the way, he met a man who knew his father and he traveled to meet him; his father told him to return Margarita to her home and he sent him to the U.S.; he crossed into the U.S. through Mexicali, Mexico; he paid a man $125.00 to take him to Oakland, California; he worked for the railroad while in Oakland; he was deported to Mexicali, Mexico where he sold secondhand clothing and was a police officer for several years; he married the jailhouse secretary; they had five children; in 1960, both he and his wife lost their jobs; he decided to enlist in the bracero program and went through the contracting center in Empalme, Sonora, Mexico; he recalls the entire process, including lists of eligible workers, waiting times, and transportation to and from the center; as part of the process, he was medically examined, vaccinated, and deloused on both sides of the border; many of the workers at the processing center wore facemasks while fumigating the braceros; his first contract took him to work in the orange groves of Anaheim, California; he also worked as an irrigator and heavy machine operator; he goes on to detail the camp size, living conditions, provisions, remittances, treatment, friendships, and recreational activities; some braceros hid food under their pillows to eat at night; many braceros would play cards, drink, and attend local dances; Mr. Topete concludes that he is proud to have worked with the bracero program.
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Interview with Juan Topete by Grisel Murillo, 2006, "Interview no. 1318," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.