By Nancy Herrera ‘15Guest Contributor
In memory of my grandfather, Fidencio Herrera, I dedicated my summer to writing his life story, with the help of an Esterly Grant. My project involved interviewing my family members, maintaining a blog for the public, preserving pictures and writing down anecdotes that attempt to show a complete picture of my grandfather’s life.
This of course, was somewhat painful. My grandfather passed away this February. About a year or two before his death, he had entrusted me with keeping his memory alive. This is of course a huge responsibility, one that weighed me down. Often, I needed time to reflect, breathe, and calm down. However, this project taught me to look at my grandfather, who had raised me as a child, in a more complete light. I was able to simultaneously look at his defects and achievements. His biggest achievement and gift to the family was his efforts that resulted in setting the path for our immigration to the United States.
I always knew that he had been a bracero, but my idea of the program was tame. The bracero program allowed millions of Mexican men to work in fields and railroads in the United States for six-month intervals. Although it gave families back in the ranchos (ranches) extra income, it served to separate families and remove men from the fields they came from. Fidencio was away for so many trips that his son (my oldest uncle), J Cruz, did not recognize him when he came back from the US and was scared to see him.
One thing I learned that was completely new was the process that workers had to go through in order to get the chance to work in the US. Therefore, it is a pleasure to share with you all an excerpt of the process!
Durango, Mexico was where all the contracts were written up. Trying to get hired was a huge problem. They would stay there for three months without working, waiting to be employed. The lines where the men lay were extremely long. It was difficult to go to the restroom, but they would save each other’s spots. Because of the large amount of men, when they wanted to eat food, often times there was no food left. One time, my grandfather became sick and had to go to the pharmacy because he was starving. Whenever there was no food, the men would drink milk, or hot chocolate. There was even a period where there was an epidemic of really bad diarrhea. Throughout this, there were also no hotels, and so they had to sleep in the streets. Sometimes people would let them in their houses, but it was often not enough.
After advancing through the line, the men had to show that they were worthy of being hired. Contractors would make them take off their clothes. They would check the men’s genitals in order to make sure that there was “nothing wrong there”. It was part of a routine health revision. They would ask candidates whether they can do certain tasks. For example, those skilled at picking crops would be hired over those that were unskilled.
The last part of my project is its educational component; I will be facilitating a workshop with Café Con Leche on Sept. 26 in SCORE. I would love to invite you all. In addition, I will continue to update my blog, memoriasdemiabuelito.com (I do have a year with the rights to the domain name after all!), so make sure to check that out as well. I cover topics concerning both my grandfather’s life and memory and the writing process.