Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
Fortino Covarrubias was born on a ranch by name of Santa María de Gracia in Teocaltiche, Jalisco, México; he was born into a family of agriculturalists and had nine brothers; his father worked in the United States for a time, and one of his older brothers was a bracero; in 1959, when he was roughly nineteen years old, he also enlisted in the bracero program; as a bracero, he completed one contract and labored in the fields of California, picking grapes, strawberries and tomatoes; he ultimately returned to the United States and became a citizen.
Summary of Interview
Mr. Covarrubias recalls growing up and seeing several of the men in his community going to work in the United States, which inspired him to do the same; in 1949, shortly after completing his military service, he enlisted in the bracero program; he went to Empalme, Sonora, México, where he suffered greatly during the four months he waited for a contract; upon crossing into the United States, he was stripped, medically examined and deloused, like an animal; as a bracero, he completed one contract and labored in the fields of California, picking grapes, strawberries and tomatoes; he goes on to detail camp size, housing, provisions, duties, routines, treatment, friendships, payments, remittances, contract lengths and renewals and recreational activities, including trips into town; his first two weeks of working were especially strenuous, because he was hunched over for hours at a time, which was extremely painful; he and others often ate fruits and vegetables from nearby fields while they worked; on occasion, women would go to the camps at night without permission; he compares the life they led of restriction to that of a communist society; when his contract ended, his boss offered to help him legally immigrate, but he refused and later regretted his decision; afterward, it was too difficult to get a new contract, so he came without documents; he admits that it was easier without a contract, because he had more freedom; ultimately, he returned to the United States and became a citizen.
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Interview with Fortino Covarrubias by Mario Sifuentes, 2006, "Interview no. 1066," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.