Efraín de Santos
Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
Rafael Cortez was born in Acuitzeramo, Michoacán, México; he had thirteen siblings; his father made houses, and in addition, he worked the land and cared for animals; Rafael was formally educated through the fourth grade, during which time he helped his father; in the 1940s, he enlisted in the bracero program; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of California, Colorado and Montana picking apricots, beets, lemons and oranges for a span of roughly ten years; he ultimately immigrated to the United States, and he was able to bring his family with him; in 1998, he became a US citizen.
Summary of Interview
Mr. Cortez talks about his family and childhood; he recalls knowing about the lists of workers eligible to enlist in the bracero program and wanting to go, but his father did not approve; when he finally agreed, Rafael traveled, by bus, with other men from his hometown to the processing center in México, Distrito Federal; many had never been in the city and were shocked; he describes the necessary paperwork, waiting for two months and how they used a system of colored coins; from there he was transported by train to the United States; many men left, because they were afraid of being sent to war; he also recounts the medical exams he underwent at the border; as a bracero, he labored in the fields of California, Colorado and Montana picking apricots, beets, lemons and oranges for a span of roughly ten years; he goes on to detail the various worksites, housing, accommodations, living conditions, provisions, duties, routines, treatment, payments, deductions, remittances, contract lengths and renewals, correspondence and recreational activities, including trips into towns; upon arriving the first time, he was advanced money to buy personal items and toiletries; he earned extra money by charging 50¢ to cut hair; eventually, he was able to save enough money to buy a truck; one of the foremen even taught him how to drive; he also mentions becoming ill and undergoing surgery; although he was not paid during his recovery, he was not charged for food; he ultimately immigrated to the United States and brought his family; in 1998, he became a US citizen.
Date of Interview
Length of Interview
Length of Transcript
GMR Transcription Service
Interview with Rafael Cortez by Efraín de Santos, 2008, "Interview no. 1410," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.