Undelivered 1940s Mexican letters to Pacific Northwest relatives
Mrs. Fidencia Abila was probably relieved that her son Salvador looked plump (“estas muy gordo”) in the photos (“retratos”) he sent from the United States. He was part of the Bracero Program enacted through several bilateral agreements signed by United States and Mexico between 1942 and 1964. The program brought thousands of Mexican men as short-term workers, primarily in agriculture, contributing with their “brazos” (arms) to the overall war effort as our country made a full commitment to World War II and later the Korean War.
This is one of twenty-four letters written by Bracero relatives in Mexico, never reaching their intended recipients in the Pacific Northwest. Salvador never read his mother’s blessing: “que dios te ven diga” dated October 9, 1943. Envelope marks indicate several other letters were re-directed within the United States. But none were returned to senders.
If reading them is often challenging with run-on sentences or misspelling of phonetically-like sounds, “vien” for “bien,” these documents tell the joy of families who have heard from their sons, brothers, husbands or friends and the worries of those who have not received news of the men who have gone up North.
As a teaching tool these texts offer students ways of drawing broad historical parallels with current immigration issues: one third of the letters come from the same Mexican region that continues to send a big percentage of the overall migrant workers coming to the United States. For others, there’s a personal connection. A graduate student’s grandfather was a Bracero and she directed her thesis to an area that has received little scholarly attention: the life of the women left behind. With half of the letters written by mothers, daughters, sisters and girlfriends, the documents were right on target for her research. More recently, one the of Spanish language lecturers, whose father was also a Bracero, suggested transcribing the letters so she could use the texts in her classes of first-generation students.
Almost 80 years after those undelivered letters were written they continue to inspire others.
You can consult all 24 letters in SearchWorks, Bracero letters, 1943.