Carlos Marentes took us to an old relic, decaying against the Texas sun, rich in history we must not forget.
With camera at hand I captured a segment of history most of us never knew existed.
This is the entrance to the abandoned Rio Vista Bracero Processing Center in Socorro, Texas.
A processing plant, similiar to an assemby line in Detroit, except that instead of cars it was an operation of human farm workers brought here to aid the USA in time of need. The Mexican farm worker came to the rescue with little complaints, just searching for a glimmer of hope to hold on to a little bit of prosperity for a better future. Just here for a nibble of the pot of gold.
The bracero program was established by bilateral agreements between the United States and Mexico as an emergency measure to satisfy World War II labor shortages. Braceros, like the soldiers who served in World War II, and as well as this magnificent relic, are quickly dying.
During the 1950s and 1960s, thousands crossed through El Paso and Juárez, most of them routed to Rio Vista Farm in Socorro, one of five reception centers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Known as braceros because they worked with their brazos, or arms, they were supposed to return to Mexico after their contracts expired. But many braceros eventually settled in El Paso and other U.S. cities. They became the grandparents, parents, tios and neighbors of current generations.
The beams if light gave a glimpse of the past long gone but the history resonates within the shadows of the walls. The pattern of hundreds of lines scattered against the floor gave an impression of some sort of time warp back in time when this lonely and quiet place was crowded with men. If one stood still long enough, you could hear the many voices echoing against the walls.
Carlos Marentes, director of the Center for Border Agricultural Workers in South El Paso. "Of all the movements on the frontier, the bracero program was perhaps the most important. Braceros had a significant economic and social impact," Marentes said. "It is important that we rescue the bracero story. That would be a just homage."
As I stood there transfixed in the dim lighted rusted floor, I could see a bracero from Durango holding a simple small sack tied to his back, carrying all the possessions he owns. His torn dusted hat hiding a weathered face waiting his turn to use a facility for his very basic needs. He turned to waved, reminding me that his time in life did exist, although it is a fading memory lost in time.
Dr. Jose Roman treated braceros in Pecos, Texas, where the workers lived in barracks.
"They came over with one change of clothes, one pair of shoes, a light jacket and a straw hat," he said in an interview taped in the 1970s. "The farmers ... would see to it that they had housing, bedding, medical care and food. But anything else, the braceros had to provide for it."
Sixty years after the bracero program began, the term bracero still ignites political wildfires every time politicians argue about reintroducing a Mexican guest worker program. Activists still struggle to help braceros recover promised wages and benefits.
Many braceros remained illegally in the United States after their work time expired, prompting the Immigration and Naturalization Service to begin Operation Wetback, a plan designed to round up illegal Mexicans, particularly in Texas and California.
Government data indicate that in 1954 Operation Wetback repatriated more than 1.1 million Mexicans. By the mid-1950s, the INS expulsions reached a high of 3.8 million.
I can truly hope that with the eyes of my lens, I brought you a little bit closer to what hides underneath the dust in the wind. This facility might be forgotten and rotting in decay, but the legacy left by the braceros lives everyday in our lives here in the great US of A. The old rotten wood barely holding the empty structure had more meaning and significance than any modern building in America. A living tribute to every farm worker who left their sweat and blood in shaping the history of this country. The day we forget that, is the day we lose our soul.
"Yo soy quien soy,
Y no me parezco a nairen,
Me cuadra el campo,
Y el chifilo de sus aigres."