Oral History of Hector and Genie Zavaleta
This oral history was conducted, written, and transcribed by Carla Arias, CGCC student.
Mr. and Mrs. Zavaleta were employed by Migrant Ministry for the National Council of Churches to assist the migrant workers. In addition to working with the braceros on the farms during the week, they helped the braceros on the weekends at the Migrant Ministry Centers in town.Hector Zavaleta explained, “You have to remember there was nobody to give these men any advice or to council them about what to do and what not to do. It was up to them to figure it out.”
Hector and Genie Zavaleta worked in the fields as advocates to help meet the needs of the braceros beginning in 1958 and continuing after the bracero program ended in 1964. Genie Zavaleta stated, “Without the braceros in the fields, we would not have won World War II. They saved our country, they kept the railroads running, they kept the crops going, [and] they helped with various things that had to be done because we had no more men in the community...We owe a great debt to Mexico, the United States does.”
They worked with the braceros in Indiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, and California. At night they would bring music and entertainment to the farms, including showing movies. Hector explained, “Their favorite was Abbott and Costello. They didn’t need to understand the language in order to understand the movie, they could just watch and laugh. After a hard day they needed to just relax and laugh.”
The presence of Migrant Ministry staff was important to curb abuses. Hector explained, “My feeling is that at the time which this law was crafted, there wasn’t much concern about the abuse of these people. [The United States government] treated these people not as our equals and therefore [the United States] didn’t worry about what happened to them.”
Despite some mistreatment, the Zavaletas feel “the bracero program was good for the agriculture at that time, it was good for the men that came, and it was good for the economy” both in the United States and in Mexico. In Arizona, the Zavaletas continued working with the now ex-braceros as the number of undocumented migrant workers increased.
Today, the Zavaletas are strongly involved with issues facing undocumented workers and their families, including the Dream Act legislation that is currently before congress. Hector stated, “As a country we are very ignorant about issues of this sort, we want to be ignorant because if we really begin to think about it, it begins to bother us and we think as long as I don’t know, I’m okay.”
Click on the following links to access the oral history audio files and transcripts.
Overview of the Bracero Program
Oral History Transcription
Audio file: oral history part 1
Audio file: oral history part 2