Last updateFri, 22 Apr 2016 9am

Invasion of and conversion to things  Mexican occurred in a slice of the US rejecting strangers and their ways

When I was still a kid I lived apart from my parents. My father was out of the picture. My mother worked as a hostess of the women’s hushed “dining room” in an upscale big-city department store.

I lived and worked at a series of ranches and farms. What my “divorceé” mother had in mind for me was clean air and fresh food. I learned a lot. But there were times when I was without work. Money was often scarce in rural areas then. I was often stashed with strangers — parents, or other relatives, of young female friends of my mother, who had moved to the city for well-paying city jobs.

The employment drop created by precursors of the coming United States “bracero” program was at first caused by Mexican workers coming north on their own to work in gringolandia. It was an ironic switch. Sometimes the only work I could get for a short, tough time, would be digging ditches, cleaning out hog pens, toting water. Then irony was emphasized by the fact that I got work at a small “store” named “La Perla de Chihuahua.” My boss’s name was Chela (Isabel) Ramirez, who had been born in the border town of Ciudad Juarez — a place no one I knew could pronounce or imagine. There was a lot of prejudice spread across America’s Great Plains at that time. And Chela had to be tough to endure the bigotry thrown her way. She finally changed her business’ — and her own name. (She became Sara Lopez.) Some of her relatives had come up to harvest sugar beets in northern Nebraska and the Dakotas. A good many of the ranchers and farmers I knew didn’t have a clear idea of where U.S. sugar-beat country was. And a town called Ciudad Juarez — an unpronounceable, and dubious-seeming name — was beyond prairie imagination

But Chela/Sara and I got along, once she realized I didn’t think she was a being just arrived from Mars. Many of the rural families with whom I had been living and working with had recently acquired a very noisy gadget, cheap static-prone radios. And seldom-used words such as Mars often echoed through the broadcast crackle.   

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