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.
Date of Interview
Length of Interview
Length of Transcript
Interview with Bernabé Álvarez Díaz by Alejandra Díaz, 2008, "Interview no. 1331," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.