Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
Ramiro Solis was born in Tekax Yucatán, México on December 28, 1922. Ramiro’s father was from Canton, in the Guangdong province in the People's Republic of China and his mother was of Spanish and Indian (India) descent. He had ten siblings, of which only one is still alive. He is married and has five children, two boys and three girls.
Summary of Interview
Ramiro Solis was born on December 28, 1922 in Tekax Yucatán, México attended school and learned to read and write, however, after his father passed away, everyone in the family had to start working. Ramiro left school to work with his father’s former Chinese countrymen who paid Ramiro $0.02 cents a row for harvesting herbs and he would earn $0.10 -$0.12 cents a day for his work. He went on to work as a roper (one who makes ropes) in Mérida, Yucatán. Then there was a decline in jobs, and the Mexican government began pushing for unemployed men to enter the Bracero Program. In 1957 he entered the Bracero Program. At that time he was already married with five children, two boys and three girls, so Ramiro entered the program to support his family. To enter the program, Ramiro had to show that he worked in agriculture for at least five years, had the calloused hands to prove it. He was hired into the Ranchers Association and traveled into the United States via trains, in livestock cars. At the reception center, workers were left without money or food and they had to sell water to try to buy food. Shortly after, he was sent to the Rosie Labor Camp to pick strawberries for $0.57 cents an hour. When he worked with the Association of Watsonville he was paid $0.57 cents per hour and he was pressured to work like other local workers who got paid by the box whereas the Ramiro and other braceros were earning $0.57 cents per hour. The amount that a local worker earned a week was roughly between $14.00 to $14.75. Ramiro states that they (braceros) could work hard all day and never fill one box. He describes himself and other braceros being treated as animals because the bosses wanted the braceros to work just as hard and fast as the local workers. Ramiro states that one could work on Saturday and Sunday because there was always work. Ramiro developed friendships with the cooks on the labor camps and through these relationships he was able to get jobs more easily. In a typical day, the braceros in the labor camp that Ramiro worked would wake up at 5 a.m., eat breakfast and take their bag lunch to the field. At noon, they would break for lunch for half an hour and then work until 3p.m. If there were more strawberries to harvest, then they would work longer until 5 p.m., otherwise, they only worked eight hours. At the end of the day, the braceros were told by the bosses that they were required under contract to clean the tools used in harvesting the strawberries. The braceros cleaned what they had to, sometimes for six hours without pay. The Braceros ate Mexican food at the camp and they were charged $1.75 a day for food. The boss would deduct the cost of food from their earnings. Although the food was not always good, the braceros were given enough food to eat. Ramiro describes the housing to be a barrack with a hundred beds in rows. The braceros would place their clothing under the bed. The shower had 10 to 15 showers line up next to another and the braceros showered together. The braceros washed their clothes in machines, however Ramiro states that he did not wash his clothes, but rather purchased second hand clothing inexpensively. Personal toiletries were not provided by the bosses. Checks were issued out the 15th and 30th of each month. Ramiro sent the bulk of his check and usually kept $5-$6 for himself. He did have instances where he had issues with being paid or the having deductions, however he was always able to work out the issue. Ramiro left at the end of the season and in the following year he was unable to return as a bracero because he had tuberculosis. Ramiro stayed in México working and submitting paper work so he could move to the United States legally; it took five years. Ramiro describes the experience of being a bracero as a time where they were exploited. Ramiro states that they were worked hard for very little money and that he didn’t realize this until he began working outside of the Bracero Program and found that one could be paid based off of how hard one worked. Ramiro feels that the bosses took advantage of the workers. For Ramiro, the Bracero Program was not a positive experience.
Date of Interview
Length of Interview
Length of Transcript
Interview with Ramiro Solis by Cristina Berumen, 2008, "Interview no. 1421," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.