12 • FEBRUARY 2018
BORDERLINES • MARJORIE LILLY
Program, art show commemorates Mexican workers
n the second floor of the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum on Saturday, Jan. 6, there was a program to honor Mexican bracero workers. The room was
brimming over with approximately 150 people who showed up to listen. After introductory remarks, the event began with songs you could have heard in Mexican homes during
that period. “Viva Chihuahua,” “Alla en el Rancho Grande,” and two other songs were played with authentically out-of-tune guitar music and enthusiastically sung by three local women — July McClure, Olivia Paez and Martha Griffin. Mexican gritos (long shouts, or yelps) were heard from a man in the back rows of chairs. Mexico felt near.
What the Bracero Program was
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Manuels Many Manuels came to southern New Mexico to work. A pistachio grower west of Deming, Bill Barnes, lives with wife, Beverly, in a house built to house bracero workers. “Several houses were built in the area for bracero workers,” Bill said. “But they weren’t constructed very well and usually didn’t last.” LeMarbe and Cobos mostly stuck to the positive side of the story of the bracero workers. There’s no doubt there was a lot that was positive for the workers. Farmworkers at the farmworker center in El Paso (Centro de Trabajadores Agricolas Fronterizos) are quick to say the bracero program was a good thing because it transported people to work in the U.S. Therefore, they didn’t have to go through the literal hell of deserts and high water of the Rio Grande. It’s hard to exaggerate how important that must have been to workers. But one of the fliers for the com-
Exhibit: San Vicente Artists from Silver City/ Grant County Reception: Sunday, February 4, 2018 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm February 2, 2018 through February 27, 2018 Joanie Wolter from Scottsdale AZ will be teaching fiber a clay classes March 23 and 24
men and women who still live in the area and have worked as farmworkers. A man named Miguel, who with his wife has shared several Thanksgivings and Christmases with me, had a brother-in-law in Sinaloa who used to work in the U.S. every year as a bracero.
Mon thru Sat 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
The sculptures of braceros by Diana LeMarbe bring a sense of the excruciating work the Mexican men did during their employment in New Mexican fields from 1942 to 1964. (Photo by Elva K. Österreich)
100 South Gold, Deming, NM
89.1 F RU
The Bracero Program ran from 1942 to 1964. It was an agreement between the United States and Mexico that brought workers to Luna County (varying from 1,600 to 3,000 a year) and to New Mexico as a whole (on average around 18,000 a year). They replaced U.S. workers who were sent to war. They worked mostly in fields but also in the railroads, dairies and ranches. A former Luna County Sheriff, Raymond Cobos, was extremely important in the collection of interviews with the bracero workers. It was deeply disappointing that he couldn’t attend because of illness, explained Diana LeMarbe, who spearheaded the whole project and worked on it for two years. Cobos had acted as a translator between farmers and bracero workers when growing up in Hachita, in the boot heel of New Mexico. Lalo Mendoza, the current principal of the Deming Intermediate School, read the first interview with braceros (meaning someone who works with their arms). It was easily the sweetest memoir read. It represented a man from the state of Michoacan named Manuel, but was in reality a conglomeration of several interviews. There were a fair number of Latinos in the audience. I gave a quick wave to Luis, who I’ve known since he was little. He said his grandfather had been a bracero from Michoacan. The lives of the braceros of the past are often interlaced with the
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This project is supported in part by New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs
memoration lists the kinds of abuses many workers faced from Americans — wage theft, decrepit housing, lack of medical care and unsafe transportation. Deductions from braceros’ wages were sometimes not repaid by Mexican banks, and there is still a continuing effort to get braceros paid up.
Actors and art A nice original touch to the program in Deming was to have several men posing as braceros lining the sidewalks to the Deming Art Center. They wore farmworker clothes and memorized scripts of interviews with braceros. One of the actors was the school principal, Lalo Mendoza. He read his own story about his father, Ramon Mendoza, who came from Chihuahua in 1953 and worked the fields in Luna County. Lalo went to Deming High School and served in the Air Force for 20 years. Then he became a bilingual teacher in Las Cruces and worked his way to his current position in Deming. At the Art Center there were works by LeMarbe and paintings by Jeri Desrochers. LeMarbe’s figures are becoming an ingrained habit with her. Her bracero workers, bending and lifting and hammering, spring to three-dimensional life while remaining humble and worn, like the workers. Considering her development of the Apache gala event in April 2016, she is also getting in the habit of turning up great ideas for successful projects that make Deming more livable. Jeri Desrochers’ paintings buzz with hot summer colors. She grew up the Midwest and has a special love of agriculture and the workers. It was interesting for me to see a Hispanic man at the show that I recognized either from the fields or from working in the chile and onion processors. He had brought his elderly mother to see the show. I found myself seeing him in a new dimension as he entered a different social territory. I talked with this man about Americans and Mexicans. “Everyone is the same,” he said. The creators of the bracero project hope that more field workers and former workers come to the planned exhibit at the Branigan Cultural Center in Las Cruces from June through October.