Alfred Bonturi was born on August 16 1925. He was born and raised in Hollister, California. Alfred Bonturi’s father Fausto Bonturi, was born in Tuscany, Italy, His mother Amelia Bonturi, was born in La Honda, California. He grew up with a large family of six girls and four boys. Alfred Bonturi went to school for twelve years and finished High School at San Benito High School. He started Junior College but only finished one year. Alfred Bonturi started farming at the age of fourteen after his father passed away. Alfred being the oldest son took over his father’s farm. He has been farming for over 70 years now. He has been part of many agriculture businesses including Sun-sweet growers, Cal-Can, and California Walnut among others. He has worked in the San Benito County Farm Bureau, and with the University of California. Alfred Bonturi has grown apricots, prune, grapes, and walnuts. He now only cultivates walnuts in his farm. Alfred Bonturi married Corinne Bonturi in 1950. They had two children; a son named Greg (53 years old) and a daughter named Brenda (50).
Alfred Bonturi was born on August 16 1925, in Hollister, California. Alfred Bonturi’s father, Fausto Bonturi, was born in Tuscany, Italy, His mother, Amelia Bonturi, was born in La Honda, California. He grew up with a large family of six girls and four boys. Alfred Bonturi went to school for twelve years and finished High School at San Benito high school. He started junior college but only finished one year. Alfred Bonturi started farming at the age of fourteen after his father passed away. Alfred being the oldest son took over his father’s farm. He has been farming for over 70 years now. He has been part of many agriculture businesses including Sun-Sweet growers, Cal-Can, and California Walnut, among others. He has worked in the San Benito County Farm Bureau, and with the University of California. Alfred Bonturi has grown apricots, prune, grapes, and walnuts. He now only cultivates walnuts in his farm. Alfred Bonturi married Corinne Bonturi in 1950. They had two children; a son named Greg (53 years old) and a daughter named Brenda (50). This paper will talk about the history of agriculture in California and about Mexican (Braceros) labor in California. Also, it will show how both themes affect Alfred Bonturi’s life.
“On August 4 1942 the governments of the United States and Mexico signed a treaty to temporarily recruit and employ Mexican citizens to reduce the shortages of manual labor in the agricultural fields and to help maintain the American railways” (Marentes). Both governments set laws and made agreements about bringing Mexican workers to the United States. These series of laws were known as the Bracero Program. According to Mitchell, some of the regulations both the Mexican and American governments agreed on were that: Imported workers would be guaranteed work at least 75 percent of the time (exclusive of Sundays), and provided a three dollar per day subsistence when there was a shortfall; wages were to be paid on “the same basis” and at the same rate as those of domestic workers. Growers were to provide food at the cost to workers of $1.50 per day, but bracero’s could elect to keep that sum and provide for themselves or eat in town, provide “adequate housing, health, and sanitary provisions” as determined by the FSA. Ten percent of wages were to be withheld from the workers and deposited in Mexico to be paid upon the workers’ return. Finally, workers could elect their own representatives, but they could not strike; neither could they be locked out. (30)
All the braceros who were recruited had to be examined and registered, “they were interviewed by representatives of the Mexican government and various Americans, they were given health examinations by Mexican and American officers, including lung X-rays (and, often, a spraying with DDT or other insecticides for lice), posed for identification photographs, and placed into groups of twenty- five or thirty to have the contract read and explained to them.”(Mitchell, 30)
Alfred Bonturi was one of the U.S inspectors who would inspect Mexican labor workers for any diseases or disabilities that would prevent them from working in the United States. In 1953 Alfred Bonturi went to Hermosillo, Sonora, in Mexico to recruit over six hundred braceros for agricultural labor in his farm. All the recruited workers were brought to California. Some came to San Benito County where they would stay in recruitment camps in Hollister, California. Recruitment camps were made up of small houses where the braceros would stay to sleep. Alfred said he had to inspect every single worker for any disabilities. Many workers that he inspected didn’t have a leg or didn’t have an arm, but Alfred believed that no Mexican worker was inferior for having a disability, so he would recruit every single worker. When they were brought here to work Alfred would assign every worker to do a specific job. Those who had disabilities were put into different jobs. For example, a worker who didn’t have a leg would be put in a job that required the use of his hands.
Carlos Marentes claims that the bracero program began because the United States needed workers to continue growing crops and farming the land after many Americans were being deployed to fight WWII. In the book They Saved the Crops, by Don Mitchell, Mitchell writes;”For many farmers across the United States the growing war economy portended labor shortages, or more accurately, a shrinking of the large surplus to which they had grown accustomed.” (22) According to Mitchell, over one million farm workers left agriculture in the first week (22). The bracero program caused independent farmer associations and the Farm Bureau to recruit over three million Mexican braceros (Marentes). Mexican braceros were very experienced laborers, and they made California agriculture grow.
Braceros would do much back-breaking labor, for example: picking cucumbers, tomatoes, cotton, thinning sugar beets, and weeding. One of the tools the bracero’s used was the short-handled hoe (Marentes). This tool was used for beet picking; it was very inefficient and made farm work very difficult. Despite contributing to Americas Agriculture, many braceros were harassed and oppressed by racist groups (Marentes).
Alfred Bonturi was a different kind of recruiter. He would get along with the Mexican workers very well. Alfred even learned Spanish from the braceros. In order for the farm to be productive Alfred and the workers had to be able to communicate with each other, so some braceros had to learn English and Alfred had to learn Spanish. During Apricot season Alfred would show the braceros what a good apricot and a bad apricot had to look like. He would go up to a bracero and show him a green apricot; the bracero would say “Verde.” Alfred learned the colors in Spanish first. Later on he would learn how to tell the workers not to pick the green apricots. He would show the braceros the green apricot and say, “Este no” (which means, “Not this one”). By 1950 many braceros were entering the United States illegally (Marentes). Illegal Mexican workers were called by many Americans; “Wetbacks”. In 1950 there were about 500,000 illegal immigrants in the United States in 1953 this rose to over 900,000 immigrants, by 1954 there were over 1,000,000 (Mitchell 239). Many Mexican workers moved back to Mexico but many stayed. Operation Wetback started in 1954. “The police swarmed through Mexican American barrios throughout the southeastern states. Some Mexicans, fearful of the potential violence of this militarization, fled back south across the border” (Operation). In 1954, the agents discovered over 1 million illegal immigrants. According to the article “Operation Wetback”, this was a violent immigration law enforcement.
In some cases, illegal immigrants were deported along with their American-born children, who were by law U.S. citizens. The agents used a wide brush in their criteria for interrogating potential aliens. They adopted the practice of stopping “Mexican-looking” citizens on the street and asking for identification. This practice incited and angered many U.S. citizens who were of Mexican American descent. Opponents in both the United States and Mexico complained of “police-state” methods, and Operation Wetback was abandoned. (Operation)
During Operation Wetback there would be border patrol searches around farms and bracero camps. Alfred remembers that during farming season’s border patrols would come in to his farm and arrest many illegal braceros. Even though braceros would be returned back to Mexico they would sometimes cross the border back into the United States to find jobs and earn money.
Agriculture in San Benito County has been a big part of Alfred Bonturi’s life. Alfred had to face many struggles in farming. In 1959 Central Coast, California suffered one of its worst droughts in its history (Summary). These droughts caused Alfred Bonturi’s farm to be scarce in water. Alfred Bonturi had to dig up another well to find water to grow his crops. Alfred has been farming for many years and he has overcome most of the problems nature has thrown at him. Over the years Alfred has harvested many different fruits including Walnuts. One of the fruits Alfred has grown is the Apricot. The Apricot originated in China, but was brought into California by the Spanish missionaries in the 1700′s (Apricots). California leads the Apricot production in the U.S. It accounts for over 95% of all U.S production. In San Benito county Apricots are grown for fresh market distribution. Alfred said that Apricots are harvested from May to August. Apricots can grow in colder winter weather he said.
Another fruit that Alfred has grown is the Grape. Grapes are one of the most grown fruits in the world. In the U.S, California grows 99% of all grapes. There are over 700,000 acres of grape vineyards in California. Grapes are picked between May and January all throughout California (Grapes).
Another fruit Alfred Bonturi has grown is the prune. According to Norton, “California produces 99 percent of the nation’s prunes and 70 percent of the world’s prune crop. Other major prune-producing countries are France, Chile, and Argentina. Almost all of California’s prune acreage is located in the Central Valley” (1). Prunes, like apricots, need colder winter weather to grown ripe. During the winter season prunes require special care to prevent frost. Frost is just one of the challenges Alfred has had to face with growing fruits. The final plant Alfred has grown and harvested is the walnut. Walnuts are the only plant Alfred is still currently harvesting. Walnuts flower between April and May. Cold winter weather can damage Walnut trees. To prevent frost from damaging the tree many farmers stir the soil around the trees to prevent the roots from freezing (Walnuts). Many types of Walnuts have also been produced that can withstand viruses and plagues (NZ). Alfred Bonturi has also been involved in producing these types of walnuts with his knowledge of farming he has worked together with different walnut producers to make these types of walnuts. He now grows these walnuts himself.
Alfred Bonturi has been farming for over 70 years now and is part of the history of Agriculture in San Benito County. He has been in the board of directors for many important local agriculture businesses and has given advice to many important farm owners. He enjoys farming and to this day he still goes out to his farm to take care of his orchards.
“Apricots in California.” UC Davis. University of California, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
Bonturi, Alfred, Interview
“Grapes Home.” Grapes from California. California Table Grape Commision, 2010. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
Marentes, Carlos. “The Bracero Program.” The Farmworkers Website. The Farmworkers Website, December 1999. Web. Nov. 8 3013.
Mitchell, Don. They Saved the Crops: Labor, Landscape, and the Struggle over Industrial Farming in Bracero-era California. University of Georgia Press, 2012. Print.
Norton, Maxwell, and William Krueger. “Growing Prunes (Dried Plums) in California: An Overview.” Growing Prunes (Dried Plums) in California: An Overview (2007): 1-7.Print.
“NZ Walnut Industry Group Inc.: Frost 1.” NZ Walnut Industry Group Inc.: Frost 1. NZ Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Information, 2008. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
“Operation Wetback.” PBS. PBS, Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
“Summary of Floods and Droughts in the Southwestern States.” Summary of Floods and Droughts in the Southwestern States. US Geological Survey, Web. 08 Dec. 2013.
“Walnuts in California.” UC Davis. University of California, 8 Oct.2013. Web. 2 Dec. 2013