El Paso News

Special Report: Braceros on the Border

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) - During World War II, the U.S. was dealing with an agricultural labor shortage. It was during this time, the "Bracero Program" was created, bringing thousands of migrant workers to the Borderland.

Millions of Mexican workers, desperate to work, legally came to the United States as part of the program. The program may have ended four decades ago, but for one former Bracero, it's a memory that's still very much alive.

The year was 1942, World War II was in its third year and as many men were serving abroad, the country's farms were dealing with a labor shortage. 

As a result the United States created the Bracero Program, a temporary agreement for the use for legal Mexican agricultural labor.

Leopoldo Avila is 94-years-old, he's a former Bracero. He now lives in Canutillo where he shares a home with his daughter.

Born in Durango, Mexico, Leopoldo remembers from a very young age always wanting to work. And so he did, from farms, mines and factory work, he never said 'no' to a job.

He said he was born with an ambition to work. At the age of 19, Leopoldo took on a job that would change his life.

"Denle un ride a este muchacho, va a Juarez para Los Braceros," he told us in Spanish.

Leopoldo hitched a ride in the back of a truck to go wait in line for his turn to come to the U.S. He says they traveled by train and once arriving in El Paso were fumigated. The experience was humiliating to many, Leopoldo told us.

Then, they were taken to the Rio Vista Farm in Socorro where they were fingerprinted and processed. The farm still stands today.

Fred Morales is a local historian who knows the history of the Braceros well. Morales' grandfather used to help transport the workers to Rio Vista Farms. 

"It became a regular custom, after you see so many, it was just a common sight," Morales explained.

The buildings in Socorro are now vacant and deteriorating. They used to see farmers passing through by the thousands as they awaited their labor contracts.

"These were people who were used to hard living conditions, but they survived and they were proud of the fact that they come from Mexico and they were committed to fulfill what they came here to work for," said Morales.

The Bracero program was controversial in its time, some farm workers worried that the Braceros would compete for their jobs and lower wages. But the U.S. put in place safeguards to protect both Mexican and American workers.

There are stories that Braceros were treated badly. Leopoldo says it wasn't idea, it was hard, but there were no better options. He says he made himself valuable through his hard work, and the one thing he learned from his decade as a Bracero was taking control of his own happiness. 

Leopoldo became a legal U.S. Resident and calls the Borderland home. Even at the age of 91, the memories of his past and what got him here are vivid.

An adventure that became his life.

The Bracero program ended in 1964. As for the Rio Vista Farm, it was declared a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

 


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