Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
Jose M. Zepeda was born in Sinaloa, México, but he was raised in Mexicali, Baja California, México; his father served in the bracero program; José had two siblings; his formal education extended through the fifth grade; during the 1960s, he also enlisted in the bracero program; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of California, picking asparagus, cotton, dates, strawberries and tomatoes; in 1970, he returned to the United States and arranged for legal status; sometime later, he married and eventually had four children, two boys and two girls.
Summary of Interview
Mr. Zepeda talks about his life in México, including his various odd jobs; he initially learned about the bracero program through newspaper announcements; during the 1960s, after completing his military service, he went to Empalme, Sonora, México with a group of roughly four hundred men to pick cotton and get the necessary papers to enlist in the program; upon arriving in the United States, he was inspected like a piece of fruit and fumigated; many men were embarrassed by the entire process; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of California, picking asparagus, cotton, dates, strawberries and tomatoes; he goes on to detail the various worksites, housing, accommodations, amenities, provisions, duties, treatment, payments, deductions, remittances and recreational activities, including trips into town; before leaving, his father had told him to go to Coachella, California, and say he was a palmero, or date picketer, even though he was not, because he could learn on the job; he enjoyed working as a palmero and explains that Levi’s were best to use, because they were especially durable; in addition, he used special boots; he also recalls going into town to see Spanish movies with some of the locals; on occasion, his mom was able to visit him, because she had a passport; he also recounts his life after the program; in 1970, he returned to the United States and arranged for legal status; sometime later, he married and eventually had four children, two boys and two girls; overall, he has positive memories of the program, because he learned a lot about different kinds of work.
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Interview with Jose M. Zepeda by Mario Sifuentes, 2006, "Interview no. 1259," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.