Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
Bernabé Álvarez was born on June 11, 1938, and he was raised on a ranch in Amacuzac, Morelos, México; he had three brothers and three sisters, but his eldest brother died; when he was eight years old, he started working in the fields, and consequently, he did not receive an education until he was much older; he enlisted in the bracero program in 1961, and continued working with the program until it ended in 1964; as a bracero, he worked throughout California picking beets, cantaloupes, chiles, eggplants, and tomatoes.
Summary of Interview
Mr. Álvarez talks about his family and childhood; in 1958, he paid to get his name on the list of eligible workers for the bracero program in Empalme, Sonora, México, but he was only cheated out of his money; later, in 1961, he paid again to get his name on the list, and five days later, he obtained a contract; consequently, he underwent rigorous medical exams while there; he comments that between the first and second time he went to Empalme, the city had grown tremendously, because thousands of people had to spend money while they were waiting there; as a bracero, he worked throughout California picking beets, cantaloupes, chiles, eggplants, and tomatoes; he goes on to detail the various worksites, duties, housing, provisions, recreational activities, and remittances; in addition, he explains how tremendously strenuous and painful it was to work in the beet fields, because he had to use the short hoe; even after a week of using it, he still found it difficult to sit, stand, or even eat; he repeatedly mentions that the heat was unbearable; in fact, many men left before fulfilling their contracts; furthermore, he states that in addition to the copious amounts of water, they were also given salt pills, because they would sweat so much; if they were able to survive the agonizing heat, they could renew their contracts without returning to México; he also describes working with his brother and cousin in 1962; after the program ended, he returned to México, and he continued working in agriculture; overall, having been a bracero proved to be a positive experience for him, because he was able to make a better life for himself and his family.
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Interview with Bernabé Álvarez Díaz by Alejandra Díaz, 2008, "Interview no. 1331," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.