Los Angeles – A group of Mexicans who worked on U.S. farms as part of the World War II-era Bracero program will receive a check from the Mexican government as partial compensation for money deducted from their wages.
On Aug. 15, a technical committee of Mexico's federal government published the announcement in the official gazette that it would return 38,000 pesos ($3,150) each to 5,089 former braceros who presently live in the United States.
"What's $3,000? We're not happy with that money because we're not asking for a handout, we're demanding all the money they took from us," 71-year-old Jesus Galvan told Efe.
"(Mexican) President Felipe Calderon is stepping on our self-esteem as people. With that he wants to shut us up because the presidential elections are next year and he doesn't want protests," he added.
About 4.5 million Mexicans worked in the United States between 1942 and 1964 under the Bracero program, which began as an effort to replace American farm hands serving in the military during World War II.
Many braceros ended-up being shortchanged by their U.S. employers, while the 10 percent deducted from their paychecks for deposit in bank accounts back in Mexico was often looted by corrupt officials in their homeland.
"All of we ex-braceros are elderly, and the majority of us are sick," said Galvan, who from 1959 to 1964 harvested cotton in Texas; beets in Michigan, lettuce in Arizona and lemons in California.
"We've agreed that we're going to grab that check; but we're going to continue fighting so that they return our money to us," he said.
Juan Jose Gutierrez, a legal advisor to a binational group representing the braceros, told Efe that the Mexican government will send the checks to the Mexican consulates in the United States via diplomatic pouch so that they can be distributed.
"The amount of money is symbolic because if that money that they took from 4.5 million people were in the bank earning interest, the figure would be billions of dollars that the Mexican government could not pay," he said.
Gutierrez criticized the fact that the Mexican government is calling the payment "social aid" although it is "the return of a small part of all the money that they took from the ex-braceros."
Members of the binational alliance will meet with the Mexican consul general in Los Angeles on Aug. 31 to agree on the details of returning the money to the former braceros, even to those who because of health reasons or age cannot personally come to collect their checks.
Medardo Molina, 72, worked as a bracero in California between 1959 and 1964 harvesting melons, cucumbers and beets.
"That little bit of money isn't a lot, but with the way the world is it's going to be good for something for us," Molina told Efe.
"The little old car I have always breaks down on me, so I think that with that (money) I'll buy myself another one in good shape to go to see my brother" in Mexico, he said.