Bracero Oral History
Biographical Synopsis of Interviewee
Luis Ruiz Zamudio was born on August 19th, 1935 in Moroleón Guanajuato, México. His parents were Florencio Sanchez and Josefina Ruiz Zamudio Martínez. Luis had three brothers and four sisters who survived infancy and one sibling that passed away right after birth.
Summary of Interview
Luis Ruiz Zamudio was born in Moroleón Guanajuato, México on August 19th, 1935. Moroleón was a town known for creating shawls (rebozos) and according to Luis, 99% of the townspeople work in one form or another in creating shawls. When Luis was between the ages of 8-10 years old, he began making bobbins and spools for shawl making. However, shawl manufacturing did not pay enough and Luis’s parents had to still take care to plant a plot if corn every year. When he was in the 6th grade, he and his siblings left school to start working full time. Luis already knew how to weave and loom a shawl. They took care of the family for four years while their father took a break from working. When he reached the age of 18, he signed up for a year of military duty, a duty he performed every Sunday without fail in Moroleón. After the year was up, Luis decided to enter the Bracero Program. His father had also worked in the Bracero Program back in 1945. So he went to Monterrey Nuevo León, México for the recruitment process. Luis had to show his mandatory military service card and in addition he had to show that he had sufficient knowledge on the germination process and agriculture. This work allowed Luis to obtain a Form I-100 that helped him work to keep getting work in the Bracero Program for seven years. When he was finished at the recruitment center in Monterrey, Nuevo León, he was sent to a recruitment center in El Centro, California in the United States where he was given a physical examination, blood tests, vaccines and where they were disinfected so to make sure they did not, according to Luis, a parasite. In addition it was here that Luis signed his contracts and then was sent to which ever boss he was contracted to. As a bracero, Luis cultivated, irrigated, and harvested celery, lettuce, cabbage, tomato, onion, carrots, potatoes, corn, melon, watermelon, strawberries, squash, cucumber, cotton; as well as flowers such as geranium, gladiolus and esters. In addition, the braceros did non-field work such as packing, loading and other jobs for their boss. Luis does not recall ever knowing of a fellow bracero working there illegally. There were instances where men would desert their work at their assigned camp to work for another camp. The braceros were only allowed to work for the boss (patron) they had a contract with and it was with permission from both the Department of Labor of Mexico and the United States that a bracero could get a new contract. Luis fondly remembers one patron named Ruben Killingsworth who was the chief steward of the Batch Gold Company in Peoria, Arizona. Luis and Ruben were friends and Luis was invited to dinner with his family and even became friends with one of the children of Ruben Killingsworth. Luis also worked for Cook's Produce Company. Hours of work depended on what the boss required, however Luis usually work from 7am until 3pm. He worked eight hour days, six days a week, though the braceros had an option of working Sunday. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, eggs any way one wanted, bread and coffee. Lunch was a bagged meal that was consumed in the field. The braceros had a ten minute break at 10am, then a thirty minute lunch at noon, with another break at ten minute break at 2 p.m. and then the end of the day at 3 p.m. The braceros were supplied with cooking tools so they could cook their own meals. If they ate the food provided for them, they were charged $1.75 a day which equaled to $12.25 a week that was deducted from their earnings. They slept in a barrack with bunk beds that lined the place. They had a sinks and toilets however they had to usually shower 10-20 people at a time. The barracks were well heated and cooled and were taken care of. It was not specified which camp had these rules and conditions. Luis’s pay varied depending on the state and the job. In the state of Texas he was paid between $0.75 to $0.85 cents an hour and was paid by the pound for cotton. In California, they were paid between $0.95 cents to $ 1.10 dollar an hour, depending on the job. However those who harvested corn, flowers and some vegetables were paid $1.00 an hour. Carrots, potatoes, onions and tomatoes were paid $0.10 cents a basket/box. For Luis, watermelon and melon were the hardest jobs to work. The braceros were paid by check which allowed them to send the money home in México. A bracero could only be contracted for one company for 18 months at a time. At the end of those 18 months, if the contracted was to be redone, the bracero had to leave for the border, cross the border into México and then turn right around again with a letter of employment from their employer. Luis does not recall having issues with his earnings. He does recall an incident of discrimination in Texas where a barber refused to cut his hair. Luis mentions having heard of what César Chávez was doing in California during the time that Luis worked as a bracero, however he states that those types of protests were not occurring where he worked. Luis worked as a bracero for seven years, under six different contracts. The first contract was for thirty days in Los Fresnos, Texas. The second was for eighteen months in Maricopa County, Arizona. The third contract was for four months in Tahoka, Texas. The fourth contract was for eight months in Pinal County, Arizona. The fifth contract was for seven months in the county of Los Angeles. For the sixth and final contract, Luis returned again to Los Angeles, county of Los Angeles, here in California, with the Artesia Growers Association. Luis spent his last year and a half as a bracero here. It was this last boss that helped him gain legal residency. From August 1955 to September 1961 Luis worked in the Bracero Program in the United States. Overall, Luis describes his experience in the Bracero Program as positive because he was able to help the United States during a time of need and that work helped him become a citizen of the United States.
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Interview with Luis Zamudio by Susan Zamudio, 2008, "Interview no. 1422," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.
Interview in Spanish.