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Porfirio Rico

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This is an interview with Porfirio Rico, on October 14, 2008 in Santa Paula California My name is Beatriz Zizumbo, and this interview is part of the Bracero Oral History Project. This is an interview with Mr. Porfirio Rico October 14 in Santa Paula California. My name is Beatriz Zizumbo, I am the interviewer and this interview is part of the, Bracero Program Oral History Project. Good afternoon sir. Okay, can you tell me a bit about where and when you were born? -Where and when was I born? -Yes. I was born in Jericó. -Jericó -Michoacán. In Mexico? In Mexico. Okay, and in what, when is your birthday? I was born September 14, 1914 And you grew up in in Jeruco? Yeah, there and I started there... well I worked away from there but… I came here to Anaheim... the beginning of 44. I came contracted from Mexico. Before we talk about the contracts... ...tell me a little bit about your family. Tell me a little bit about your family and where you were born. I already told you where I was born. Yes, but how many people were in your family? Siblings? Yes, how many brothers and sister did you have? More or less it was... Anastacio, Imelda and... Yofanis Who else? Ignacio...and... Esperanza and then Luz was born and and Fabiela. So how many boys and how many girls were there? I think 5 boys no? Me and Anastacio, two, Yofanis three, Ignacio four and Luz five. -And three girls? -Three Okay, so there were 9 total? Oh, no 8. What did your parents do? [Incomprehensible] I want to say field workers but... just because they came from the fields... ...they were just looking after the cows. And where do your brothers and sisters live now? Well, they’re all spread out wherever. Are they still alive? That's a different story. Anastacio already died, Yofanis died... Luz died, now only me and Ignacio are left (Woman speaking in background) Imelda died too. There’s only two women and two men left. Very well. Tell me about when you went to school. I only went to second. -Second year of elementary? -Yup and then they'd take me out because I would take care of the animals. And did you go to school there in Jerucho or somewhere else? No, just there. [Incomprehensible] Did you learn how to read and write in school? Practically nothing! I taught myself how to mark my name and write something down when I got her and said, ‘how am I going to write to the wife?’ I had to teach myself at least how to write my name. And did you work while you were in school? Well yeah Well I didn’t work but regardless... I was in the house here and there I had to sweep, make the beds [Incomprehensible]... ...clean the beans... ...go and get water. So I was working the whole day. -So you did a lot of chores in your house? -Yes Luz's wife knew about everything. When you started your first job, where they paid you... How old were you? I started working at 10 or 11... ...with a friend of mine... and it paid 15 cents. Daily. What did you do there? In the salon, but like they say [Incomprehensible] ...with a big basket in the fields. To harvest or to…? No, well that was only when we worked with the basket, then you'd harvest ...but that’s another story. Oh, so it was only tilling the soil? Well, the good thing is that it paid. Yeah, no after being married I got 6…7 ...they paid me 35 cents. And, for like 4, 5, 6 years. -Six years after you got married? -Yes. I got paid but I didn’t see any of it... ...because it all went to the house. And that's why at the end [incomprehensible]... ...because I didn't do my work [incomprehensible] What did you work as when you found out about the Bracero Program? -What did I work as? -Yes I was on the highway. I worked on it for 5 years, rain or drought... ...working with a shovel and pick and wheelbarrow. On the highway that’s in…? Yeah, from Morelia to Guanajuato. Or go to Juato, well it's from Michoacán... ...but from central Morelia to where the Guanajuato and Michoacán lines meet. So you were involved in the construction of that highway? And we worked with only shovels and wheelbarrows and picks. I was there for 5 years through rain and drought ...working. After that I came to [incomprehensible] by myself... fill carts with wood there. ...and I did it for about two years too. Then from there I came to Aguascalientes... ...and the work was poor there and afterwards I came back... ...and I worked on my land where I would harvest a little corner... ...with the basket That’s when they mentioned... ...the contracts in Mexico. ...and I went to Mexico and I signed up. I came here. So you had to travel more or less... from Jeruco, Michoacán to Mexico? How long did it take you to get signed? From Morelia to Mexico? 6 hours You had to travel 6 hours to sign up? And then we’d have to go home to... ...tell them if we had worked it out... ...and then from there they'd send us... Guato or Guadalajara to get the... But the first time... No, they hired us there in Mexico... ...the train would pick us up there too. 900 men in a, in one trainload. And how did they call you? Like when they said, ‘no you have to go to Mexico because there’s'… Just through the contracts. They’re hiring people for Braceros. So you live in Jeruco, that’s when you came back from Aguascalientes? But we only went to Aguascalientes during the week and... ...went back home on Saturday You just went to notify your wife that… That it had worked out in Mexico. At that point were you married for the first time? Yes And we had two families. -But you never came here before? -No -Before the contracts... -No. -It was the first time that… -It was my first time When you decided to come over through the contracts... ...was it because there was no work in Mexico... ...and you wanted to progress with your family or because... Why did you decide to come by contract? There was nothing for someone to survive on What did they gain? -There was nothing -No. People worked around town, Sometimes... they used you for a bit, then no. There wasn’t work anywhere. There were the people, we were really poor. We didn’t have where to live, or clothes... ...or anything to eat, or anything. The life of a person is very very sad. Yes Alright can you tell me a little bit more about the contract process? Or what requirements did you have to complete to be able... be part of the Bracero Program? Well just that you were good and healthy and… ...that you know how to work. That's it. They didn’t ask for any papers -No vaccinations, nothing? -No. What was the process like when, when you got to Mexico and you formed a line or? No, Well it was pure you just made lines of 50 to 100 men Then from there, they would take you to sign up, see if well ask them questions if they knew how to work what could they do or what did they know they just didn’t say anything. But if they knew how to work than yeah [Incomprehensible] is that there wasn’t work here, and the one who said Well...Yeah One time I annoyed them because they told me... I had already come over, but another time I went to sign up they asked if I knew how to pick... ...melon With a ladder or without, I told him with a ladder. He said no, you’re lying. I said well you didn’t ask what kind of melon because there’s melon you pick with a ladder which is the papaya and the melon that you pick in the [incomprehensible], watermelon all of that so, yeah I know it, how would I not know it? It's just when they told me... This melon But no, no, it was okay. -But you’re familiar with it? -Yeah -And what can you do? I told him... Well I, I already [incomprehensible]. What can one do that another one can’t? And when you went to the contracts did they tell you... we are going to pay you this much or... they didn't you how much they’d pay? Nothing, you were just contracted to work, here it was all about… if someone worked per hour they paid you 72 cents an hour and if you worked through the contracts They'd only give you a week... train to see what job they could perform. And some were alive but dumb because they'd say... the end I did well, thank God because... Well I think God gives me [incomprehensible] the first day I let myself fall, another day I did what I could to the limit ...but I tied myself up because then I couldn’t do less ...because they already knew what I could do at work. And others, others said “nah man, why am I gonna kill myself if it’s just a week of... ...per hour, to get trained? And I'd say 'well...' and they didn’t make the effort to see what it was worth The next week it’ll be the same thing. No, for next week I have to make what I’m making. So others because of that no longer [incomprehensible] and others chose to leave because they didn’t perform well. It was laborious. So when they enlisted you, with the people you came with... they didn’t give you a physical exam? They did everything to you. You couldn’t have dandruff You couldn’t have lice, you couldn’t have bad hygiene So that’s why they would all say 'ahh, stupid bald people' because... Well people would peel, we peeled from the sun, not of our own accord. [Incomprehensible] ...others from there would take us out all peeling Nah, well when they inspected us they took our clothes off ...and they would cover us with EDT It was a joke. ...and then at the end... they would turn you around and check you to see if you weren't sick. And they did that over there in Mexico or they did it here? -Arriving here? -Yeah, in the center In the center, here, over in Mexicali There's a place there... There all of the contractors for the workers went there to... bring back the people they needed, the men are there like when you are selling a cow there for your liking, there they made… -There they... -Chose The rings were filled with 100 people and then toon, toon, toon. There's one, they'd pass another and whoever followed And when they made the contracts did they tell you... No, the job will consist of this or we’re going to give you this... or we’ll give you a place to live’ or what did they tell you? -No, no. -Oh, they didn’t tell you anything? They didn’t tell us anything, just that they would contract us for here We’d be assigned to one place and there was a cafeteria if not, afterwards they would say ‘you guys will be living in such and such place ...and you have to pay for your own lunch to make your own meals But that was here, over there they didn’t tell you anything. So you guys came blindly, you didn’t know what to expect. No we didn’t know, not even in what we would end up or anything. And when…when you said you came to be receive you here the first time, do you remember what the trip was like? I’ll tell you, we came on a train, nine hundred men and I think that 50 of them were lost because ...they would yell out ‘don’t be a stupid oaf' they would take them like pigs to the slaughter house and others well, I don't know They got off and perhaps they stayed. And all of us who got here there were 50 or 60 men missing Did you come standing up or sitting down? No we came sitting, all of us, after all it was a huge train. It wasn’t a freight train or anything. No. It was a train. How long did it take to get from the, where they sent you from Mexico? That was lengthy because the train line didn’t work at that time It took a long time to get there. It lasted from Guadalajara to Mexicali. Sometimes it took 3 or 4 days. It worked a little then they said no, we’re going to wait because such and such part broke and they're fixing it. So you came prepared with rations, like food, water or did they give them to you? They gave us. They had everything on the train After they contracted us and everything they gave us to eat on their own. Here too, afterwards they just said ‘you’ll have a cafeteria here’... They just charged us 1.50 per, for each individual for food for the day. A peso and 50 cents or a dollar and 50 cents? No, yeah, a peso, a dollar, a dollar and a half. And per hour, we worked per hour and they paid us 72 cents an hour. -The first time you came here? -No all the times Yeah. Here it was still a lemon grove when I fixed my papers they paid us per hour Then there wasn’t anything to pick and they took us to pick tomatoes ...or no, well per hour, they paid us 72 per hour. And do you remember where you crossed? Where you crossed the border on the train? The border? No, the train just went to Mexicali But you’re talking about from there to here? Well the honest truth is no, because... Sometimes they contracted us in Einapuato and I think we took a different route And other times when they contracted us in Gaudalajara We needed to take yet another route. Well, it’s very distinct to know, to have someone know about that. And speaking about the center where you said that the contractor went to pick you up... You say was in Mexicali, do you remember what it was like? Was it a big room? No, they were, what do you call it? I don’t know, but they were big halls and there, because I don’t know how, but they even brought women. -Yeah? -Yes You remember seeing women? Yeah, because when we started the, the registration They took us to register to see if we weren’t sick or that we weren’t pigeon toed Well a lot of men entered and there was one department for men and another for women. Or they didn’t come contracted; I don’t know, in any case, there were men and women... But not together! Each person came For example, if they brought 6 cars of men on the train, they brought 2, 3 cars of women. So you remember seeing women, but not many? Do you remember if they gave you vaccinations other than... Yeah, they vaccinated you They vaccinated another and they vaccinated and they covered you with dirt with the hose. They covered you with dirt? Yeah, well with the EDT powder. They didn't make us take our underwhere off but they still told us ‘take off your underwear’ And then with the bomb they’d go foosh, foosh, foosh, foosh. -No, they were mocking us. -It was a humiliation ...with the interest of coming and earning something. And no one, like they didn’t get upset by it or….or refused to have that done to them? Who would you expect? Well you were already all the way here huh? No, well yeah people got upset and everything and they’d grab you and throw you out. So yeah Did you have the option when... ...after you had your medical exam and they gave you your job permit... Did you at one point have the option to choose the type of job you wanted or... or how long you wanted the job to last or how much you wanted to get paid? No, no, nothing. You had to do what they told you, eat what they gave you and stuff. You only paid attention to how much they scrawled for you. You looked to see if they paid you, how much they paid, if everyone was equal. Yeah, so working by contract right? Because supposedly it's the work of each person, Because there are quick hands and there are clumsy hands So per hour, they paid us per hour equally regardless of the job. In regards to the place where you were headed, where they would send you to work, Did you get a say or they sent you where they sent you? No, they just chose you and they brought you over by dawn, [incomprehensible] And there they told you what you’d do or you’re going to do this and that. Yeah. Just what they said. Do you remember if they allowed you to bring personal items? Like what? Like I don’t know. Your own clothes, your... I don’t know if you had a radio or if you had something that you wanted to bring Family pictures or something like that? Oh, that people would take?...Well, that yeah. -You could take it? -Yeah Yeah you could take a radio, or whatever you wanted They would just say later on that they would take them away, especially in Mexico Here we could use it but then getting hillside over there, it was different. So yeah you can take it out but on account of money. And when you came over the first time, when they gave you your exam the physical exam... Did they gave you a work permit? Or did they just give an authorization to work with a certain contractor for that time? No, from when they pick you out at the center you were contracted for 6 months, 7 months. So it was permission for 6 months? I even got a contract in the center for [incomprehensible] For 45 days. I didn’t even make enough for, not even to eat. From there I came back again to the Escobedo connection To get signed up again and I came and I was assigned here in Simi. There we worker per hour, 72 cents per hour but we still worked 8 or 9 hours But for the most part we worked per hours there. Through the contract it was oranges, lemon, it was what was available through the contract Tomato too How many years did you officially work as a Bracero in the United States? Do you remember what years? I don’t remember any more. When was…what year did you come for the first time? -In 44. -In 44 Anaheim. And in 45 at San Dimas Then in 46 I came a little ways from Santa Barbara to a small town named San Marcos. Then I went to Watsonville That’s just from what I remember, another time I went to Yoluc, close to Stockton. [Incomprehensible] Well, of all sorts. Well that’s just the places I remember, but yeah. And, where did you work the longest? There in, where I just told you right now, Joluc, I worker there 9 months. And that was in 46 also or was it… In forty-… In 46 you came to San Marcos then you went to Watsonville. In the same year or? No, in a different year. Just each year, each year For me, my mind, I don’t remember anymore since I came here some many times They also asked me when I retired... If I only came over through contract or if I ever came illegally and I said 'Yes 4 times' And how many times have you been deported? None. They never caught me, it was no big deal, but they never caught me. I left of my own free will And when you crossed illegally was it because your contract was up and you had to leave? Well yeah, it was after But did you go all the way to Michoacán and then go back or? Yup, yup. No well, people came back whenever they wanted to The thing with the contracts is you just came when someone needed you, where the contract would be Where the contracts would be Then when it was over, they said they were all over so that’s why I burned my papers... ...because they said there were no more contracts they were over! So why do I want this now? there in the center they even gave me, they gave me my social security number... ...and they gave me a green card and I burned that too. I burned everything. Well why would I want this? It was over. In what in what year did they tell you it was over? Do you remember? Well the honest truth is no, I don’t remember, but... I don’t know, I don’t remember. And do you remember the first time you came illegally, in what year? [incomprehensible] who knows if I can remember What year was it? It was like in... '49, around there And that time I came making sacrifices and... I worked 7 months with a man, some guy who paid me 3 pesos each day It benefitted me because the dollar rose Over there it was worth 2 pesos, then really soon it rose to 4.80 and then to 6 who knows how much and after it rose to 8, and then it rose to 12! And that’s when I bought my little cows and I put the guys to seed with [incomprehensible] It's impossible for someone to remember so many things. Llets return to where, when you were transported from the reception center... the work places. Did they provide a bus, did someone pick you up when they went for you in the center? No. Well when they contracted us... We paid our own fare, like us going from Morelia to the junction. From the reception center? -And then? -Or to, to Guanajuato Or to Guadalajara too, we got contracted again in Zamora No not in Zamora Somewhere where there’s a lot of oranges, avocado, that’s from Morelia, that way... -Europe? -In Europe There we were signed again, but we only got signed there and went back home And we had to pay our way to get to… The center? The reception center? And then? They got us there by the ones who signed us And sometimes they would transport you in what? On the buses. Yeah, because about 30 to 60 men would get on, it was 2, 3 buses And what did you pick in the majority of the farms? Were they farms or ranches, what were they? No well for example they were, like there, when I bought the house there, I was in San Dimas in 45, there we harvested oranges, like the black ones, Naiwood and Valencia and lemons Grapegruits too, the grapefruits were big. The work was good, it was just that... Well now that we’re talking about work, can you explain how, how you did the work or... ...and how many people worked at the same time? For example, everything was done by teams of 30 men That had a superintendent or two superintendants. Because there’s always a superintendent and a helper ...and they took us around and it was there where they would give us 4 trees per row Each individual, two in front and two over there Well they had on the streets, fruit crates here, crates there... And cars would pass, pick up from there, pick from here, It was all combined over there. It’s just that everything, everyone picked with scissors. Everything with scissors? And a ring measure? Yeah, the lemons, ranges no.oranges didn't have a measurment Only the lemons because. Let’s say from number 6 to 8! A first they’d give you a big one and then they’d give you a smaller one and that’s it. Everything by size And they didn't want us picking lemons because they were small in the stem -I think it’s sharp then you pick the other -The other lemon Then it rots they don’t have, they had a shell The lemon, you just had to hit it on the shell That was tiresome Now no, now here, they yank the lemon. They even throw in the branches. Can you tell me about other braceros that worked there with you... Did you have a friendship that you remember, that you had a good friend? No, well everyone had one that was friendly with everyone. It was brotherly Then we’d see where we’d be, like I told you in San Marcos, next to Santa Barbara There were like 200 men there In one camp there would be huge barracks and we would all make our food Each person would, you would join some 4 or 5 or 6 individuals And between all of them, one would buy food for the week ...and then come eating time, one would make the tortillas others... Others would make the food others washed dishes, and well everything in accordance That’s friendship -It was good. -Yeah? You don’t remember someone you could he was my friend for that time or... ...or I got along really well with this person? Well, I got along really well with everyone, thank God. I didn’t have … Enemies Did the managers ever sign any illegals, while you worked through contracts? No, that they didn’t. No illegals [incomprehensible] contracted workers They were people like that, but they were apart So when you were on a contract, it was all pure contracts? Pure contract, just contracts in the camps where we were No well there’s one, there's 3 3 camps, one was Citrus, they call it... Citrus Lemons, oranges, I don’t even remember what they called the one for... Radishes and all the vegetables, cabbage and everything I don’t know, that was another camp And another for the lettuce cleaners and all of that, there’s 3 camps in one. Three camps of people or of? Of people -Distinct. One camp was for... -All of those who worked in And the other worked in something else, and the next on another thing When you worked, did you have a lot of contact with your boss or his family ...or did you not even know them? We didn't even know each other The bosses knew we lived, everyone was a worker, the contractors too, Since it was the company God knows where the people from the companies live or who were the bosses Yeah. Did the Mexican authorities ever go to where you worked? That you know of? In any of the places where you worked? Sometime, a few people would come and say they wanted to... ...see how people worked but no. We didn’t pay attention. They’d just tell of the “Consulate” and who knows what They’d visit but at times we didn’t even see them They were just there to talk to the managers that they’d shortly gather us up. They don’t let you rest. Even though you work by... ...through contract, don’t think that, they don’t let you stayed seated Time is money, and if you didn’t want to work, then they’d give that spot to someone else. Did immigration ever go to look over your documents? Yes, that they did. They’d show up in the fields where someone would be eating... We’d be eating and they come 'let’s see your papers' So you had to take you papers with you where ever you went? Yeah. Those yes. When immigration showed up what, no one got scared because they all had their papers? Well, why would we be scared if we all had our papers? -But did immigration ever mistreat you? -No No the only thing they’d say was “mucho trabajo” That was it Did they talk to you in Spanish or English? In Spanish and English, they spoke English and some spoke Spanish Well, everyone who works for the government here speaks Spanish When you were working here, how did you communicate with your family in Mexico? -Well through letters -Through letters -Is that when you learned how to write? -Yes And those who didn’t know how to write? They suffered I told you that one day Matias asked me why I don’t read his letter from his wife So I, I told him, I hardly know how to read. I also… “Spell it out” they would say. It doesn't matter But they told him really mean things and that was the only letter she sent him And I just told him she says she's doing good and take care of yourself and all of that She told him ‘you’re so dumb’, what you don't have hands?' My brother and I were working together too and... And Moises, the one from Tomatila, there were four of us there from the San Marcos block They would say ‘you’re so dumb’. What you, you don’t have hands? You send her your pathetic money; she’d say ‘since my brother sent this much in labor’ Yeah, how was I going to tell him that? I just, no well that everything, everything was good After that I said ‘look for someone because I can’t, I don’t really understand your letter She told him a lot of things and Salvador’s wife would say ‘she didn’t fool me the whole time ...from the beginning with the love that they had for eternity and you would know’. How often would you see your family during the time that you worked as a Bracero? Did you go every year, every two years or? -Who -You Every 6 months or 7 months or te-nine, according to what… -According to how long the contract was for? -Yes So if you came, for example let say in 44 when you started coming and the contract lasted 6 months, you went back after those 6 months? And you didn’t return until they… Until there were contracts again when they said they were signing up But I didn’t stop coming Because a lot of people couldn’t come since they didn't have anyone to loan them money I looked a lot for the first time and what was it? 150 I couldn’t raise that was loaned to me And my mother-in-law, Macedonia got the money from the Marcelina women And... That’s how I came, if not, no. Because even my father-in-law told me, he couldn't help Then what he did was... After I came for the first time and went back, he wanted to fix up the little house I sold him there I couldn’t afford it. It was very little money so instead we just bought little things we needed in the house ...and I put away the money for when there were contracts and I came And every year I would put some money aside to… -To come over on your contract. -To not go around... -Asking for loans -Yeah Well yeah, because it’s a lot of work Then they’d ask you what were you going to put down and what were you going to mortgage Mortgage what? No. You didn’t have anything to mortgage Do you remember how many days a week you worked and how many hours per day? Well, on average it was 8, 9 hours each day Everyday from Monday to Sunday? Sometimes there were a few Sundays too They’d let us rest on Saturdays, we worked just half day on Saturdays And then we’d get there, we’d eat and we’d bathe and they'd bring us the company car It would bring us here to Santa Paula. But that was when you were already here in Santa Paula, Was is the same...? -It was the same wherever? -Yes There in, now that you remind me, in San Marcos where the little camp was... There was a little store, like the one that’s in the... [Incomprehensible]... fix papers -The pharmacy? -Yes we’d go there, the ones who went would go buy something to eat So there were day when we made tortillas and we’d make somehing to eat So we’d just go over there and buy some tortillas as they got there in the afternoon. Sometimes we wouldn’t get there in time So it was like some 300 meters distance? Yeah I think so. So what was a normal day of work like? You left in the morning... Did they pick you up or did they just take you in buses? Here they did. And everywhere else too They were contractors they’d go pick everyone up there in the camp where everyone slept and every morning you’d have to be ready to go to work Alright tell me a day as if you had to go to work. What did you do? Wake up in the morning I’d make my coffee and eat breakfast or eat some bread and wait because then we’d head out from here to the street. You had to wait at the corner there. You already knew and they knew where they'd wait for them From there we’d get it and go to work and when you got back, they dropped you off there At work did they let you eat? Did they give you breaks or you didn't... No, no. Well we were at the camp they would give us food there But when you lived in like these big trailers you would have to make food there Either way they would let us stay there. We’d take showers, since there were bathrooms and everything in the trailers... it’s just that the people, all the Mexicans were really…sloppy. Why? Because, some would go shower and leave a mess in the middle of the bathrooms and then they’d get mad and wouldn’t let us use the bathrooms but they had reason. -So they were really dirty? -Yes. you know that we can all suffer for one persons mistakes And so what,when they gave you food what did you eat? Or when you made food, what did you make? Well, whatever anyone wanted You’d go and buy what...for example, you’d buy a piece of chicken or a piece of, well everything you wanted to buy and then you cooked -That was when you cooked your food? -Yeah And when they gave you food, what did they…? We ate what they gave us. Like what kind of food did they give you? They gave us soup then they’d give us potatoes or they'd change it now and then. A piece of fish... Did you think the food was relatively good or was it okay? For me yes. Everywhere you went or some places where you said ‘Oh no! This food isn’t good here’? The only thing I didn’t like that they gave you in the morning, it was never in an oven Because they gave us, well a lot of people liked it, but I didn’t like it They had some stoves like the size of this one, except squared There were 2, 3 on one side and 3 on another Cracking an egg and just let it drop and they had one of those cans, for soup... with oil and they’d stick like a brush with a cloth, but it was smaller that way they wouldn’t drop egg shells Turn it off turn it off! They’d say no, I don’t want it anymore. You eat them I would just get myself 2 eggs, I cooked too Did they give you food after you did all of your work? Or in the middle? -They didn't give you a lunch hour? -No So you only ate in the morning and then in the afternoon…until the evening? No...they would give us lunch there ...they gave us a sandwich with beans and soup... They’d only give you one in the afternoon, until you got home at night. So in the afternoon it was what they provided or did you sometimes have to take lunch? When you were in the fields them and when you were by yourself, you took your lunch Two tacos with beans and whatever you wanted And when they provided, did you think it was sufficient or was it too little? No, it was sufficient because you'd finish it and then go ask for more and they’d give it to you It was good. When you say that you lived in the camps how did you live? How many people were there? Did you have a bed? Yes. You had a single bed, each individual just had his own bed They were barracks, we’ll say that here there was, there was no room, just the walls Like a hall? There’d be a group here, another in the middle, and another around the edge So it was pure beds and you couldn’t use the stoves, instead they… But no, 6, like in the cafeteria -You had a cafeteria for everyone? -Yes -Was it another big hall? -Yeah -So there you also had chairs and tables? -Yes So in your rooms, could you have a chair or no? Just the bed? No, just your little bed. And your belongings? Where did you keep them? Oh, I think we had a, no it was a chair, a little stool that was there like a [incomprehensible] I could swear like …a stool, a little drawer You’d stick your shoes in there and your clothes on top For that did you have drainage bathrooms everywhere you went? Or did you sometimes have to battle? No, one time in Joluck, there they didn’t, it's very hot there... and there wasn’t a heater hot water for the showers... ...and the water was really cold and we were obligated to take showers... ...but it was so hot! And then...yes it was bad. Also in some camp there, it was really bad because... ...there were showers but it was a big hall like the one here... ...and there were shower heads here and shower heads there and in the center too I don’t remember very well, but one on one edge and another on the other About 50 men would all enter in one blow. But [incomprehensible] don’t think there was even a free spot! And there weren’t any fights there? People didn’t fight? Yeah just right there between the ones who were showering There weren’t any guards outside to keep order or anything? No, there was none of that. So, whoever fought fought? The ones who took care of the, those, what do you call them? The country guys, there were two guys in the camp keeping watch over the people They were there like managers And how did you wash your clothes? [Incomprehensible] Or you didn’t wash them? We had to wash them. You don’t remember where you washed them? Or how you washed? Well believe it or not when the trailers weren’t full of people like women, it was only men. there were tubs in almost all the trailers, there in the trailers, we washed our clothes there But in other places there were machines. So there were places where there weren’t and you had to do it by hand in the tub? And there are places where there were machines? To wash for the ones who wanted and the ones who didn’t, no And did you like washing them in the machines? Better I washed them myself because the machine, You'd put your clothes in and they weren’t too dirty then others would see it working ...and put their clothes in and mine would get really ugly! Better each person did their own if they could Do you remember if your boss provided you with personal items like... ...a tooth brush, soap, towels, razors, blankets? No. Everyone bought what they needed. Everywhere you went? None of them said here’s a blanket’? No? blankets yes, they gave us, they in the trailers they’d give us blankets They changed our sheets every 8 days. That was here in Santa Paula? But other places no If you had blankets, if not, then you’d have to buy them. When they paid you, did they pay you in cash or in check? -With che, every time in checks? -Yes You say that the first time they paid you... ...or the majority of the time they paid you at 72 cents an hour All the time they’d be paying the time that I was coming here, they paid all the time There wasn’t anyone who instead would say ‘oh here they pay more? There in Watsonville in the strawberries There they paid us 90 cents an hour And do you know why? I think we [incomprehensible]... -The strawberry? -Yeah -It kills it? -Yeah it kills it [Incomprehensible] whatever it had in the middle They continued paying us 90 cents an hour but working, picking was 72 cents an hour So it didn’t matter what you worked, it was 72 It was the same to pick lemon, and pick oranges, strawberries, or anything at 72? Yes, but no, not in oranges, lemons and grapefruit Grapefruit was more laborious, it was per box Actually oranges too, the Naywood paid you 8 cents a box. [Incomprehensible] And how many boxes did you pack an hour? How many boxes did you make per hour? I don’t know, the boxes were, the size of that red one over there look... The thing was I had to make 100, 108, 116, 120... earn 10 dollars. Because if I did 100 over there it only got 8 pesos. That's why when I was in San Dimas I bought the house There was an uncle, Jesus Zizumbo, Natividad Ayala there were a lot like 14 from there And out of all of them, Jenaro Rico it was Jenaro Uncle Jesus Uncle Cornelio, and... Natividad, they were people who didn’t even make enough to eat It was climbing ladders, up and down, they yelled ladders. They climed up there to cut, they hardly picked They didn't even earn enough to eat. No it’s laborious and it was per box And form the boxes of lemon, they didn't pay us if they wasn't any lemon And form the boxes of grapefruit they paid 3 cents per box Cheap -Yeah! it got full with 5, 6. -Grapefruits Yeah but we needed to fix them so they wouldn't get smooshed it was arduous What did you do with the money you earned? I sent it home You sent all your money? No, I had to leave, for example when they gave us food in the cafeteria... Whatever they paid you could send back whatever you wanted It could cost some 5 pesos for 1 person, for a drink or something Others have nothing left because they paid it But you had to send whatever you could gather. And you saved your money here or better yet you sent it to your wife so she could save it? Well I sent my money but I saved 5 and 5, when I went I took something What if I get there and there's nothing? Everyone had to use their head I couldn’t even tell another the theater, well everyone is free to do what they want So you can say all of the Braceros earned the same expect when they were paid per hour? Because when they paid you through contract it depended. Did you ever have any problems receiving pay, that they didn’t want to pay you? No, they paid us every time Yeah? There wasn’t a time when you had to fight? No, like over there in Mexico where we were on the road going in circles charging Here no, here the day of...for example the 15th day or each week... I received a paycheck, everyone paid all the time, here there weren’t things like that. Do you remember if you always got the correct pay for the hours worked... ...or did you once say ‘I worked more hours and they didn’t pay them’? [incomprehensible] to pay Did they ever take money out of your salary? That, we didn’t even notice That they worked in already, how much they would take out That’s why the ones who charged money who contracted us would take money from you But you didn’t notice it They would just give it to you. What they gave you they didn’t have to tax or anything But did they ever say they were going take money so that they could... ...protect it from the government? No, that they didn't they never told us So how do you know? How was it? How was I? How do you know they were taking money from you? I didn’t say they were taking money from us You just said! Well the people said! But I didn’t pay attention to anything Because, I didn’t even notice that they’d tell me they’d continue paying when I went to Mexico That I’d continue paying, that... Security right? No Medicaid... One thing I continued paying, they lowered it 5 pesos What did they lower 5 pesos? The check, to pay. I don’t know about security, or of who knows what they called it Was it for your pension or what? Well, I don’t know Did you ever have a problem at work? what? Well, like you’d fight with your boss Well why? What would happen in the case of an accident or an illness? If someone was sick? Well that... Chana was already here when in the trailers there were 10, 12 people there resting Because they would fall because one would go to the room and pretend to fall ...and they’d give you money for that separately... and then others came along, even the in-laws ...were ecomplaining that they fell and who knows what else... And Nicolas was also in fights, there were a lot of people... ...and I, who really fell didn't even tell them. Did you fall while working? Did you fall... I tripped on a sprinkler head that was in the grass There was a lot of grass and how was I going to notice the sprinkler when [incomprehensible] But I didn’t even realize I could complain so they could pay me for it When I did realize, why now? But was that fall during the time you were working as a bracero or was that after? He was contracted with the packinghouse, in the lemon groves almost getting out of here. And... What were the most common complaints? Of food, accommodations... ...bosses or wages? Why did the people complain? Well the honest truth is I don’t know about any of that. You never heard the workers complain about the way they were treated... or about the contracts? Well... The only thing was if they misbehaved they were scolded. But who scolded them? Well the foreman. I told you that they would always be asking me to give Anastasio ...and Salvador advice because they were dirty, misbehaved. Why me? You should say if you don't understand he said, they're dumb, they don't get it But that’s their business What did you want me to tell them? During the time you were contracted here did anyone ever get sick or did anyone die while they were working ...or they’d be sick but they didn’t pay attention to it? No I never took notice when I didn’t live there And it happens that Chanas company, her man died in the sea They called it the sea because it had a lot of turns in the middle of Ventura and Oxnard And he died, but it was, it wasn't because of an illness? Of his heart A drunk [Incomprehensible] [Incomprehensible] And they buried him there in Santa Clara. [Incomprehensible] And... What could you do if you didn’t like the job? Who? The workers like you, could you do anything if you didn’t like your job? Well the only thing you could do, a lot of people did who didn’t earn money ...they left for somewhere else and got out Everywhere I was contracted, they never told my anything nor did I have problems with them Yeah I had all of my contracts signed and everything, it was too bad I burned them all That’s why when I retired here they said, you could have had a lot of money But you don’t have any proof of anything. I said well no Why did you burn them?...Why would I want them? They said it was all over so what? If I knew they would be useful to me I would’ve not burned them Did you at one point feel discriminated against? No, thank God that I worked really well But not even by your coworkers? Well none of that was of interest to me [Incomprehensible] that they robbed me ex amount of boxes and who knows what else That time that we were in San Marcos, there was [incomprehensible] who would tell me... ...He beat me at filling boxes, picking box fulls I said I don’t know I had my count and everything then the day we’d get checks “Those sons of…! They stole this much from me If I pick more than you so why are you getting paid more than me? I didn’t know anything about that I didn’t even know how many I picked I just grabbed what they gave me If they robbed you, they robbed you, I never had to say anything to them Did any of your colleagues ever try to stage a labor protest? What is that? Like a strike or something like that when you were working as braceros? For their contracts? Someone that told you we should demand that they treat us better or? No, no there weren’t people like the ones from now Now there are a lot of strikers and because of that I didn’t like it here, better that I retired I didn’t think I would retire so soon But they didn’t let us work All of these "Chavezts" wanted them to pay us better wages and everything and we were better off as it was with the company because you could pick your oranges to make some juice Or avocados 2,3 avocados then afterwards they didn’t let you pick anything After that they took our bags when we were leaving in the evening. Was that when the Cesar Chavez strike was happening? From then on the whole thing stopped working. And what about your pastime? What did you do on your days off? Nothing... Sundays well nothing you’d wash your clothes And in the trailers there was a big salon with two billiards tables and whoever knew how to play would go play for money there But when there wasn’t anyone there we would go play just for fun ...because money, I never like playing for money And were you free to come and go as you pleased on days off or were you restricted? ...go wherever you wanted. Did they provide transportation? No, well from there the [incomprehensible] would take us wherever we paid them to Did you and your coworkers play any sports or watch movies? No, none of that. We hardly had any televisions -Did you have radios? -Yeah you had a little radio. And were there any Spanish radio stations? -Yes Was there only 1 or where there more than 1? -No there were more -Where was the nearest town? -Where? Like the different places had towns near them, or how did you get to the towns? They took us Everywhere you stayed they drove you or? No, in some places they’d say if you want to go, like Sundays ...if you want to go to the town and buy something... the cars from work would take you Some 2, 3 hours y you would have to be ready. And if they didn’t take you, how would you get there? We wouldn’t go -You wouldn’t go if they didn’t take you? -No but what would we go for? -There was nothing to go in -There was nothing to go in, we didn’t know You went when there was a need to go Then in the middle of a contract people would start buying little things to take back... Their bag to carry their stuff in and when they took us would but one of those Was there a Catholic church near where you worked? Did you go to mass? They were in the towns In every town you went to, did you attend mass or? -Mass -Mass? There wasn't a church in every town? -Hardly any -No? Where it was really bad was Oxnard It was about 2 kilometers to get to the town But we went in groups of 3 or 4 individuals we’d go by the edge of the highway. Did you go to church here in Santa Paula too? No You never when to church while you were working here? No If you were here during Easter week and Christmas Where you ever here during Easter week or Christmas to celebrate it here or no? Nothing gets celebrated here. There is no Easter week here, so we were working Christmas neither? Or did you not have to work here during Christmas? No, I hardly ever had to work Christmas here I spent it in Mexic So you say that nothing is celebrated here, not even September 16th? You didn’t do anything for the 16th of September just like workers? Nothing Your life after working as a bracero... Did you go back to Mexico when you finished your work contract? When you returned... Did your boss provide you with transportation back or you went back however you could? However you could. And you got here however you could too At the end of the contract, when it was over each person was free to leave or Or did the offer a new contract? No you finished that contract and then if you were called you got contracted if not then no After finishing a work contract, how difficult was it to get another new contract that same year? In the same year no -No? -No It’s just that what happened know what? For example they would get a contract for 6 months And then they’d tell a worker if they wanted to renew their contract... They would give them another 6 Because here some people stayed for 18 months, 3 contracts for 6 months And they were the ones who made more money, some did and some didn’t. From there [incomprehensible] the only one I remember who did 18 months was Simon And he didn’t have, he didn’t find anywhere to live And he was a good picker, but that payday That’s what they say that here, here in Santa Paula there was a bar.. There's the [Incomprehensible] on this side there was a bar and the other a theater We went to the theater and there was a bar there They only saw that [incomprehensible] It was number 14, there’s 14, 14 arrived and shut the door and paid for everything There went his entire check I don’t know, pleasure is pleasure There was this man who was a really good worker and he earned good money... But what he did... on Saturday is he would shower and get all ready and everything and he’d leave [Incomprehensible] Satuday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday ...and he didn’t come back to work until Wednesday or Thursday. And they would take him like that? The contractors took him back? He was a good worker. What did he win though? He didn’t win anything. So you could say that the good workers didn’t have much trouble renewing their contracts? Yeah Did they keep records of the workers or how did they know who the good workers were? I think just by the work they did What they did was they didn’t know how to save their money and that was it If you worked in one place could you go back to the same place and work there the next year? Or did they say you had to come back in…? For example if I was working here and I already completed my contract ...If you want renew it! And you can continue working here. That's how it was. They just give you…how would I explain it? Like a form of a contract it was just a new one, the just put the date on it and that’s it. So it was like an authorization for you to come back? And when you crossed the border, did you just show immigration the contract? From where you cross the border or what? From there to here? Or how did you have authorization to cross? No, I didn’t renew any contract. No.I went back there. I was even contracted there. So they let you cross the border because you already had a contract there? I already came signed up Did you ever resign from a bracero work contract? -What? -Did you ever resign any of your?… That I didn’t like? No I finished my jobs all the time I still remember that before I came here to Santa Paula I was in San Dimas I went there in 46, but since then, since then I landed right here ...because they renewed my contract here, the one who came here was Jenaro Rico And Cornelio, a son, you didn’t meet him or anything but... Cornelio was my size His dad Pancho Contreras lived there That man was my grandpa's brother He was also brother to the mother of... Another man was that man's brother and my granfather's and of Nicolas the “cartín” they called him and of some other man named Seviriano Zizumbo who was the dad of Ms.... -Panchita de Cornel. Did you meet her? -Yes He was also their brother But it seems Cornel stayed here. They killed him in a bar here And Jenaro, Jenaro left. They came from... -From San Dimas -From San Dimas They renewed their contracts and they were renewed for here. They sent him here Jenaro you know, well he left Did you become a United States citizen? Did you become a United States citizen? -Who? -You Fsh, until the date [incomprehensible], why? No. Okay we are going to talk a little bit about your life after you became a bracero. What, after you worked as a bracero. What does the term bracero mean to you? What does what mean? The term “bracero” when they call you bracero, what does bracero imply? I did not know until I was speaking with a priest who said... They were called braceros because they wander from place to place Because he says, I went to confess. And he asked how long has it been since you last confessed? I said the honest truth is, I don’t remember Well if no, then no Why don’t you remember how long it’s been? I said, I don’t know I can’t remember how much time I have But well, with someone working outside of here, you have to travel much further for work... Where do you go? All the way to the other side as a bracero And he said, well that, that doesn’t have anything to do with anything And he said I know everything about the United States Everything up in the north, Sacramento, San Francisco and everything And he said, people can confess anywhere or go to mass and everything It’s just that a lot of times people say its not good because there are different congregations that you don’t know And he said, well if they don’t like that, then they don’t have to go Some go to other and yeah I told him yeah, but they don’t know. And he said, they know, they just pretend I told him, no, no it’s not that they pretend, it's just that they really don't know. He said, that’s not even far, he said, it's just here isn't it? They are called braceros, because they roam from one place to another but that doesn’t have to do with a bracero But he told me in different ways, and I told him, well it’s fine but you are very different. Why? Because you go there on business or you go for... for vacation, or just for fun, but others don’t they go there out of necessity To work, to maintain a family He said yeah, you are right in that, but anyway don’t ever think because you're away.... ...just to go from place to place So that's why I thought it doesn’t mean anything to be called bracero ...just because I came to work as a bracero from one place to another. He told me. And how to you feel when they call you Bracero? Fine, what will I lose it or what? Like I told you, if the priest hadn't told me that I will tell everyone what does it matter to you? It's named bracero, he said because you are roaming from place to place Whether it's to work, or for fun like you said [Incomprehensible] Did you go to church? I said the real truth, no. And why not? Well because at times you don’t have a way of getting there ...or it’s too far from the town or the church Well we just got into talking they were going to retire until he said, it’s getting late Cross yourself and I will give bless you and that’s it I was still with Trinidad and she was also 5, 6 people back from where I was When I got home [incomprehensible] I said why? Well why didn’t the priest take your confession? He already did! So what were you doing in there? We were talking In the end he just told me to cross myself because he was going to give me my blessing He didn’t even, no work or anything, he didn’t take my confession We were just talking. Everyone was talking about you and him, I don't owe them anything [incomprehensible] In general terms, your memories of having worked... As a bracero, are they positive or negative? What does negative or positive mean? Well that they bring back good memories, or really bad ones No, good ones, I worked for the enjoyment, with joy and pleasure and what else? Did being a bracero change your life in any way? No. Well maybe economically it did change. What? Your life, having been a Bracero because if you hadn’t come over here, perhaps you wouldn’t have had the same opportunities to offer your family what you offered them No, well I didn’t even have hopes. I can assure you I wouldn’t have come here. You think I’d be alive now? Thank God because Well yeah I suffered a lot because I was a Bracero many times. I came here to work, I didn’t come here to sleep now I stay asleep because I don’t need to wake up, but... when we came contracted I would wake up at 3, 3:30 in morning to make my coffee and make my lunch. Then, I didn’t know how to make my lunch or anything. I did it by myself I worked to my liking; I didn’t have a reason to complain The only thing is what you said yeah. If I didn’t come perhaps I wouldn’t even be alive What would I take care of my family with? Yeah, I made a living here. Thank God if it wasn’t for here I don’t complain. What can I say after all the work I did here? I’d say it went well for not having anything, with hardly anything to sleep in. Specifically speaking of Santa Paula, when was it that you came to Santa Paula? Here? Did you come through contract, illegally or…? No, I was going, since would you say it? I fix my papers here in 67 In 67 or did you come with your residency? -Yeah. Okay, very good. Well we will finish the interview with Mr. Porfirio Rico ...right here regarding the Bracero Program.

Video Details

Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes and 3 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: CSU Channel Islands
Director: CSU CHannel Islands
Views: 380
Posted by: braceros on Apr 23, 2010

Interview with Bracero Porfirio Rico

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