Interview with Rafael Rodriguez 7-10-09
Rafael was born and educated in Mexico City. He went to technical school to learn to be a textile factory engineer, but did not finish. Farm labor was in short supply due to World War II. An agreement was made with Mexico to allow persons to enter the United States for farm work only. Rafael entered on Feb 29, 1944 at Nogales, Arizona.
The Bracero Program (from the Spanish word brazo, meaning arm) was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated by an August 1942 exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Mexico, for the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States. After the expiration of the initial agreement in 1947, the program was continued in agriculture under a variety of laws and administrative agreements until its formal end in 1964.
The workers who participated in the Bracero Program have challenged the US government and Mexican government to identify and return deductions taken from their pay, from 1942 to 1948, for savings accounts which they were legally guaranteed to receive upon their return to Mexico at the conclusion of their contracts. Many never received their savings. Lawsuits presented in federal courts in California, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, documented the ultimate destiny of the savings accounts deductions, but the suit was thrown out because ihe Mexican banks in question never operated in the United States. Rafael has never received the money taken from him.
Rafael proceeded to Salinas, CA and worked in the fields there for two months. This was no job for a city dweller, picking lettuce in the hot sun.
Through some connection, Rafael came to the Napa Valley in 1945. He worked at the Emmolo Packing Company for Salvador Emmolo, packing tomato products. The firm also sold grapevine rootstock at the time. On his days off, Rafael would go for drives in the country, such as up to Angwin, with his friend Jesus. We have a picture of him on such a drive. He also joined a band with Jesus, playing the maracas and singing. They were part of the Mexican Independence Day celebration held at the Native Sons Hall on September 16, 1944, shown in a photo we have copied. The event was organized by Filiberto Castillo, who worked for the War Food Administration as supervisor of the Braceros in three counties.
By 1952 Rafael was working the harvest at Inglenook. He was eventually hired there as a permanent hire. One of his co-workers was Joe Baranzini.
In September 1958 a film crew came to the valley to film “This Earth is Mine” with Rock Hudson. Part of the movie was made at Inglenook. Rafael got to meet Rock and have his picture taken with him in the vineyard. Rafael and his wife Tila were extras in the movie. The couple had four children: Rafael, Susanna, Laura and Esther. They lived in a comfortable home on Vineland Avenue off Zinfandel.