Engageny Lesson:The Bracero Train Accident Farce

Please Read: Designed To Disturb  before reading this page.


“I was hurt, I have scars. I had to go back to Mexico, my dreams of ‘The North’ dashed. I applied later to immigrate and I did get the chance to fix my papers. And here we are.”  – Flores Barragan – Chualar Accident Survivor 2013


As you will see, the Chavez Commonwealth Club speech wastes no time in distorting facts in the opening paragraph. Unfortunately for Mr. Chavez, Engageny and NYS Education, a detailed investigation was done on this accident and two Bracero survivors emerged in 2013 and 2014.


According to Mr. Chavez:

“Twenty-one years ago last September, on a lonely, stretch of railroad track paralleling U.S. Highway 101 near Salinas, 32 Bracero farm workers lost their lives in a tragic accident. The Bracero’s had been imported(1) from Mexico to work on California farms. They died when their bus, which was converted from a flatbed truck, drove in front of a freight train. Conversion of the bus had not been approved by any government agency. The driver had “tunnel”(2) vision. Most of the bodies lay unidentified for days(3) . No one, including the grower who employed the workers even knew their names(4) .” Caesar Chavez Commonwealth Club Address


Braceros Await EntryWhat really happened?

#1 The Bracero’s were legal migrant workers who worked under multiple agreements between the Mexican and US government to provide labor  during WW2. The Bracero’s “imported” themselves and willingly “deported” themselves back to their homes and families in the off seasons. Their permits lasted two years with many of them returning. A sizable portion of them melted into society for a variety of reasons.  http://americanhistory.si.edu/bracero/introduction


#2 The driver had a little more than “tunnel vision”, he was suffering the effects of vision loss from diabetes, additionally the official investigation discovered a passenger created a blind spot which prevented the driver from seeing the train. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1963_Chualar_bus_crash


#3 In 2014 a newly discovered survivor makes a statement which inadvertently wrecks the foundation of Mr. Chavez’s speech.

 “I must have fainted for a while, then I woke up, and I saw ambulances and many people. The bodies were already covered with an orange tarp,” he said. “I was looking for my friend, Sixto Robles Urzua, also from Zapotlanejo , but I didn’t see him. I walked to the bodies, uncovered the tarps, saw two or three bodies, but I didn’t recognize any of them. They were completely disfigured.” Hernandez Tovar – The FBI was given the task of figuring out who was under the tarps, as can be expected, it took a while.


#4. A discredited 1956 claim

emerges in NYS education as fact.

#4  No one, including the grower who employed the workers even knew their names”  .  In 1956 the government looked into the claim that workers were numbered and nameless after it appeared in a report by activist Ernesto Galarza titled “Strangers in the fields”. What is this number? According to the gov’t it’s an employee identification number on paystubs and part of the administration of the Bracero program.


Braceros Pay Stub Claim Baseless

Later on in the gov’t report, the number proves its worth as Galarza’s “Strangers in the fields” report attempted to show poor wages with 3 pay stubs… Using the name and number on the stubs the gov’t easily determined the pay stubs were for Sunday overtime and the worker had indeed been paid full wages plus the overtime.  The Government report should be titled, how social justice activists will invent problems out of nowhere and  here is the proof.

 Placing blame where it belongs

This accident was national tragedy with many places to place blame. The homemade truck (which was a long standing issue with Mr. Galarza), the lack of crossing signals, the company that allowed a man with severe sight issues to drive, the gov’t which gave him a drivers license. The gov’t that failed to adequately monitor some provisions in the Bracero agreements. Notwithstanding the driver who by his own accord admitted he had vision problems. The investigator Ernesto Galarza (the same activist in the gov’t report),  eventually places blame on the entire system and called the tragedy inevitable.


A possible clue for future guestworker programs

The Southern Poverty Law Center provides us with a very significant clue to the problems faced by the Bracero’s:

“Interestingly, the program had many significant written legal protections, providing workers with what historian Cindy Hahamovitch, an expert on guestworker programs, has called “the most comprehensive farm labor contract in the history of American agriculture” (Click on the link to see the terms, they are really good)…. “But the bracero program did not look so rosy in practice. Mexican workers, who generally did not read English, were often unaware of contractual guarantees.” – A brief history of guest worker programs in the United States.

Shame on NY Education

It is despicable for NYS Education to allow what is considered one of the deadliest train accidents in American history to be introduced as a prop in a political propaganda speech that is intended to ethnically inflame and generate empathy for the self interests of one man. Equally distasteful is that the Bracero program itself is presented without background information and ensures that future legal/illegal migration issues will not be viewed by people capable of critical thinking.

To learn the stories of the Braceros please visit the website “Bittersweet Harvest”. http://americanhistory.si.edu/bracero/introduction

A 1958 pictorial of the Braceros going through the entire process of medical checks for entry, work, prayer and daily life in two different camps is here.


Related pages for the Engageny 7th grade Caesar Chavez Commonwealth speech :

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