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From Bracero to US citizen, Sebastian Corral reminisces on a long journey marked by humiliation and hope

Once unwelcomed worker returns to Rio Vista as a guest of honor

Sebastian Corral, a 91-year-old man with a lifetime of experiences etched in his memory, vividly recalls his arrival in the United States in 1953. It wasn't a scene of welcome and opportunity but one of humiliation. Corral, like millions of others who participated in the Bracero Program, faced a harsh reality that starkly contrasted the promise of a better life.

Memories of Humiliation and Exploitation at Bracero

Corral remembers the forced stripping and spraying with insecticide, the dehumanizing inspections that judged his fitness for grueling labor. He, along with countless others, felt unwelcome despite being invited by the US government itself. Corral recounted in a recent interview with CNN that he felt like he had no worth, even though he had come to the US to work hard and improve his life.

This month, Corral revisited the place where his American odyssey began – the Rio Vista Bracero Reception Center in Socorro, Texas. This time, however, the reception was vastly different. Rio Vista was recently designated as a National Historic Landmark, and Corral was a guest of honor.

The Bracero Program, spanning 1942 to 1964, brought over 4 million Mexican workers to the US as guest laborers, primarily for agricultural work. While the program aimed to protect workers, the reality fell far short. Many, like Corral, described it as "legalized slavery." Fear of deportation and the desperate need to support their families kept them tethered to often harsh working conditions.

Yolanda Chávez Leyva, an associate professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, emphasizes the significance of the Bracero Program and its long absence from mainstream history. She commented that while awareness of the Bracero Program is increasing, it remains largely absent from typical curriculum.

Corral's story exemplifies the resilience of the Braceros and the profound impact the program had on families. Many Braceros, like Corral, chose not to share their experiences due to the pain and the desire to shield their loved ones.

Ironically, Blanca McCreary, Corral's granddaughter, only discovered his history as a bracero during a college course. McCreary revealed that hearing her grandfather speak about his experiences evoked strong emotions in her, particularly anger. She questioned how her grandfather could have been treated so poorly.

An older man in a suit and tie standing in front of a building, exuding professionalism and confidence.
Photo Credit: CNN

Rio Vista: A place of processing and preservation

The Rio Vista site holds immense historical significance. It's the only remaining processing center of the five that existed during the Bracero Program era. The National Trust for Historic Preservation describes the experiences of Braceros at Rio Vista as terrible food, humiliating medical examinations, and fumigation. Corral himself was held at the center for several days before being contracted by a rancher.

Sehila Mota Casper, executive director of Latinos in Heritage Conservation, emphasized the rarity of Rio Vista's survival. She explained that historically, such sites have been demolished or neglected. Casper, along with Leyva and Socorro city officials, played a key role in securing the landmark designation and are now working towards establishing the first Bracero History Museum in the United States at the Rio Vista site.

The Bracero Program's legacy is complex. It provided economic opportunity for many Mexicans but also exposed them to harsh realities. Corral, despite the initial humiliation, managed to build a life in the US. He became a legal resident, eventually a citizen, and raised a family. His story is a testament to the enduring human spirit.

The upcoming Bracero History Museum offers a chance to learn from this often-overlooked chapter in US history. Understanding the experiences of the Braceros fosters empathy and a deeper appreciation for the contributions of immigrants.

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  • I am an immigrant a Cuban Exile. Real simple don’t like what you get when you come to the USA free to go back. I lived 2 years of my life waiting to be killed. Yea I face racism some of the worst from blacks when we moved into the inner city. It was all a party come pared to 2 years of waiting to be killed. I just removed my subscription.