A lot of emotional emails are circulating right now about illegal immigration and the deportation of Mexican nationals. I recently received one. It pointed out that presidents Hoover, Truman, and Eisenhower all deported hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals. “The program was called ‘Operation Wetback’. It was done so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs.”
That reminded me that there’s an extra element to this picture the emails weren’t telling us. I should know, because I experienced it first-hand. I turned that email around with the following anecdote.
Here’s something else very interesting that very few people know. It’s also a true story. It’s also about giving Americans a better chance for jobs.
After the Bracero program ended in 1964, a citrus growers association made a concerted effort to recruit college students to help with the summer fruit harvests in Southern California. At San Jose State College in 1966, I was one of many students who visited the recruitment booth to ask what kinds of summer jobs were available.
We were told frankly that the work was picking citrus, and pickers were paid by the basket. It was hard work, yes, but certainly nothing that physically fit young college students like us couldn’t handle. Why, even some much older workers were earning upwards of $50 a day (a lot of money for a student, in those days). And we were promised dormitories, hot meals and hot showers, evenings to ourselves, and free time to make interesting social connections after hours.
With no other job prospects in sight, I signed up. So did my friends Rich and Mike. We reported to old barracks near a lemon orchard in Oxnard, California. The work was so hard we had hardly energy to eat, shower and go to sleep after work, let alone socialize. The regular farm workers were willing to talk with us because they were curious why we would come to this place. We never saw any college students during our stay. The pay was 50 cents per bushel basket.
Basket tallies in the following daily summaries are approximate.
- Day 1: Alex picks about 5 baskets, Rich 3, Mike about 2
- Day 2: Alex picks 7 baskets, Rich 4. Mike stops trying, but hangs around in the orchard, just picking the single biggest lemon out of each tree.
“How many baskets you pick today?”
“You know you gonna starve!”
- Day 3: Rich stops trying. Everybody waits for Alex to cave in. He picks 10 baskets, but is too tired to eat dinner.
- Day 4: Alex quits 1st thing in the AM. We all go to the powers that be to resign. Our paychecks don’t even cover the bus fare back home.
It turned out we three were apparently the only college students the Association ever signed up for their program. I read a newspaper blurb some time later that they abandoned the college recruitment program. It was a total failure. They were never able to find American citizens willing and able to do this kind of work.
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