A native of Tala, Jalisco, Mariscal would go to work in the strawberry fields in Oxnard under a 6-month contract that paid $1 an hour and deducted 75 cents a day for room and board.
While at the bracero camp, which he described as a clean place where a good meal could be had, he came to be known as a competent barber.
“I sometimes made more cutting hair than working in the fields,” Mariscal said.
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Yet he would continue to work in the fields long after the Bracero Program ended in 1964, until his retirement earlier this year.
An agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that brought more than 4.5 million laborers between 1942 and 1964 to work in the agriculture fields, the Bracero Program was established to alleviate a labor shortage in the U.S. caused by World War II.
The Bracero Program was also featured prominently in the history of migrant farm labor in the Valley, state and nation.
Mariscal, 71, has plenty of fond memories of his initial years working in the fields. The camaraderie, the frequent trips to nearby bracero camps to visit relatives, his eventual marriage.
“I don’t think we are ever going to see those times ever again in the U.S.,” he said. “It’s changed a lot.”
Prior to the braceros’ arrival, a rather diverse workforce could be found in the Imperial Valley.
Growers had employed Indians, Filipinos, Japanese as well as a white migrant work force, said Benny Andres, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“They were experimenting to see what would be the best labor force,” Andres, who wrote a dissertation titled “Power and Control in Imperial Valley, California: Nature, Agribusiness, Labor and Race Relations, 1900-1940,” said.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that growers made a conscious effort to use migrant Mexican labor. It was also the time at which Valley growers saw the benefits of having such a work force, Andres said.
“It was all about keeping wages low,” he said.
Although migrant Midwesterners from the Dust Bowl would find work in local fields during the Great Depression, they too would be displaced in time.
Mexican land reform during the late 1930s had transferred a lot of land into the public’s hands. Although it was a relatively populated and isolated area, Mexicali became a destination point for Mexicans from the country’s interior in search of work.
As the fortunes and numbers of these Mexican growers and laborers shifted over the years, the need to feed their large families prompted them to seek work elsewhere.