Some 50 Mexicans and local supporters protested in front of the Mexican consulate in New York City on Sept. 13 to demand money that they say the Mexican government owes them from a 1942-1964 program that brought Mexicans into the US as farmworkers. The guest workers, known as “braceros” (“laborers” or “farmhands”), had 10% deducted from their wages by the US government; the money was supposed to go to Mexico’s Campesino Savings Fund for their pensions. The US says it sent the deducted funds to the Mexican government, but the braceros and their survivors say the workers never got their pensions.
The protesters included 17 Mexicans—ex-braceros, activists and relatives of deceased braceros—who came to the US in late August to publicize the case. After visiting Los Angeles and Kansas City, the tour, organized by the Ex-Bracero Binational Coordinating Committee, arrived in New York on Sept. 10 to ask the United Nations to support their claims. They were to leave on Sept. 15 for Washington, DC, where they would ask the US government to provide copies of the paperwork showing their money was sent on to Mexico.
Surviving braceros described the conditions under which they worked while the US and the humiliations they received. “They would take us, naked, to a room where they checked whether we had diseases and then to another hall where they fumigated us,” said Luis Cabral, who worked in asparagus fields in California for three months in 1958. “They poured a lot of white powder on us, in case we had lice.” Many of the protesters at the consulate were activists from New York-based immigrant rights groups that oppose plans in an “immigration reform” measure now before the US Congress that would drastically increase guest worker programs. “We’re here showing solidarity,” said Donald Anthonyson, an Antiguan-born organizer with the group Families for Freedom (FFF), “and to highlight the results of the first guest worker program. If this is what they did back then, what will happen now?” (Associated Press, Sept. 8, via BND.com; EFE, Sept. 14, via Informador, Mexico; report from Update editor)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 15.