Crescencio Acevedo, 86, said he could still use the wages he believes were stolen from him more than 60 years ago, during World War II.
He needs new dentures.
In his apartment in Woodland, the farm town where he debuted as a bracero in 1944, Acevedo and other octogenarians last week sifted through memories and yellowed papers. They wondered if an injustice of a bittersweet era was finally – without tricks – going to be addressed.
"We earned that money. It's not something we're asking for that is not ours," said Acevedo, one of about 300,000 Mexican guest workers – called braceros, a pair of arms – the U.S. government recruited to keep farms and railroads going during World War II.
Through Jan. 5, Mexican consulates in the United States will accept applications to repay a debt owed braceros who worked in the United States between 1942 and 1946.
As part of the wartime agreement with Mexico, the U.S. government garnished 10 percent of every bracero's wages during that time and sent the money to a savings fund in Mexico as an incentive to return to their home country.
The workers assume that an estimated $32 million in braceros' savings was stolen in Mexico. The vast majority of workers never received the payments, whether they returned to Mexico or immigrated here, as many did through marriage or sponsorship by U.S. employers.
Records uncovered recently show that plenty of braceros complained to Mexican and U.S. officials about their missing money. Jose Diego, another former bracero in Woodland, said he was told he was "crazy" at a bank in Mexico in 1947 when he and a friend inquired about their savings.
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