We have Rep. Raul Grijalva in Congress thanks to the Bracero Program, a “guest worker” program that brought Mexicans into the United States. “Bracero” means “strong arm.”
Braceros worked on farms and railroads between 1942 and 1965. At the peak of the program, in the late Fifties, there were almost 500,000 braceros each year.
Bracero workers like Raul’s father received formal visas. Employers were required to pay them mandatory wages, and provide them housing, food and medical care. Many braceros qualified for permanent residency in the United States.
Notwithstanding this, many braceros were exploited. Braceros were required to pay 10% of their wages into savings accounts, but in many cases, they never got the money. Employers often evaded or ignored regulations on bracero wages, housing and food. In Texas, which then had an “open borders” policy, they were undocumented, and had no legal protection at all.
Bracero employers wanted to get all the work that they could get out of braceros, and give as little as possible in return. Braceros found that only by organizing could they get the things that they were entitled to. So they formed unions. As Raul Grijalva’s bracero father told him: “The boss works me like a dog. The union treats me like a man.”
Most union organizers spoke English. The braceros spoke Spanish. So at the union meetings, someone had to translate. A very young Raul Grijalva did the translation.
That childhood foundry forged these poignant words:
“We cannot shun our values as an immigration nation. While possibly it is a short-term political victory to split people in this country, it is a long-term defeat for this Nation.”
“Xenophobia is as strong as it’s ever been, and immigration has become the whipping boy for every issue you can think of in this country.”
“A human face to a human face – talking, neighbor to neighbor – is the most powerful grassroots tool that any campaign has.”
“Dignity is just as important as money.”
You can see why Rep. Raul Grijalva has risen to be the leader of the Progressive Caucus. Very few Members of Congress can summon the plain power of plain words the way that he can.
His voice is our voice, and we need that voice in Congress. Raul Grijalva faces a tough primary on Tuesday. Please help him, so that he can help everyone.