Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
José Natividad Alva was born on December, 8, 1939, in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México; as a child, he was raised by his grandmother, but when she died he went to live with his father and eight siblings; his father was abusive, which led him seek a life outside of his home very early on; he ultimately enlisted in the bracero program, which led him to work in California and Texas, picking cantaloupes, grapefruits, green beans, lettuce, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes; after the program ended he immigrated to the United States with his wife and children.
Summary of Interview
Mr. Alva talks about his childhood, family, and father, who was abusive, which led him to seek a life outside of his home very early on; growing up, he worked picking cotton in various places throughout México, and this eventually led him to enlist in the bracero program; he details the process he went through to get the necessary paperwork for the contracting center in Empalme, Sonora, México; from there, he and the other men were loaded in cargo trains, about one hundred per box car, and transported to Calexico, California; he was treated so badly that he wanted to return to México, but he had to work; while being processed in the United States, he underwent what he describes as cruel and embarrassing medical exams; he was also deloused and vaccinated; moreover, he mentions that several men became ill and feverish due to the immunizations, but they had to work, because they were only able to acquire forty-five day contracts; as a bracero, he obtained a total of three contracts to work in California and Texas, picking cantaloupes, grapefruits, green beans, lettuce, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes; he goes on to explain the various worksites, duties, daily routines, living conditions, treatment, provisions, recreational activities, and remittances; in addition, he talks about the difficulties he had with fellow workers and how hard it was to manage, because there were no mediators; after the program ended he immigrated to the United States with his wife and children; he concludes by stating that being a bracero changed his life, because it opened his eyes to a lot of new things.
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Interview with José Natividad Alva Medina by Ivonne Méndez, 2008, "Interview no. 1330," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.