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The History of Braceros Comes Alive

November 13, 2017

By Mario A. Cortez

Jose Ulloa Trujillo with his family

Logan Heights residents and historians documenting the Mexican-American and Chicano experience in San Diego gathered at Bread and Salt on Sunday to share and collect stories from a significant period in U.S.-Mexico relations.

Through an educational program titled “Braceros: Capturing History Through Our Stories,” the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center shared the story of Jose Ulloa Trujillo, a bracero worker who would eventually settle in the Tijuana-San Diego area, and also collected stories from relatives of other bracero workers.

The Bracero Program was an initiative from the United States government to import temporary workers from Mexico in an effort to alleviate agricultural worker shortages in the 1940s. The 22-year-long program is estimated to have granted over 5 million worker contracts over its existence, making it the largest foreign worker treaty in U.S. history.

Ulloa Trujillo, born in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas, was working in the mines of the border state of Chihuahua when he became involved in the Bracero Program in 1946. He worked in the pea farms of Idaho for one year before returning to Chihuahua. Years later, he and his family would relocate to our border region.

The story of this travelling worker was one which Armando Pulido, a historian and professor at USD, and Rigoberto Reyes, a longtime activist and community leader, came across while doing research for a book on the history and cars of San Diego’s lowrider scene.

Reproduction of a ticket envelope which Jose Ulloa Trujillo carried on his travels

“We met the Ulloa family and it turned out that Mr. Ray Ulloa’s grandfather was a bracero and had documents which were rare,” Pulido shared with La Prensa San Diego.

Attendees to the historical event could see reproduced versions of documents which Ulloa carried such as a bracero worker identification card and a ticket envelope. An original worker contract issued to Ulloa Trujillo by the United States Department of Agriculture and photos of Ulloa were also on display.

Other components of this program included a screening of scenes from the film “Harvest of Loneliness,” the presentation of a publication narrating Ulloa Trujillo’s odyssey, and a special recognition to the Ulloa Trujillo family.

“We wanted to highlight the family that we documented and was part of the Bracero Program,” said Josephine Talamantez, chair of the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center. “This year the braceros are being recognized throughout the nation for the work which they contributed during World War II and beyond.”

During the event, Pulido and museum staff recorders were also able to scan more documents belonging to braceros and collect more stories about these workers.

“We found a lady whose dad was a bracero and there were a few more people here to share stories,” Pulido said. “We are in the process of collecting more information and today’s event was a call out to those names in the Bracero Program and have them be here and present in history.”

According to Pulido, through the process of gathering testimonials, conducting research and making calls for stories and documents, it could take anywhere from five to seven years to put together a finalized and comprehensive final product given the complexity of the Bracero Program.

In the meantime, the museum and its researchers will continue to seek out more stories of the braceros, especially those who are still alive.

“Many members of the program are going away, so what better way to document those members of the Bracero Program in our community,” Talamantez asserted. “We want those histories.”

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