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Chavez, Cuca H.

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Describes use of German prisoners of war during World War II on their farm near Hill, New Mexico.

Interviewee Cuca H. Chavez, female, born in 1919
Date Range 1943-1946
Date & Location May 31, 2000, New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum
Project Prisoners of War in New Mexico Agriculture
Region Southwest New Mexico
Number of Tapes 1
Transcribed June 13, 2000
Download Abstract


Tape 1, Side A

The Chavez family moved to the farm near Hill in 1942. They raised cotton, alfalfa, and vegetables on their irrigated property.

Mrs. Chavez picked cotton, as did her stepsons. Her husband also hired high school students to assist with the cotton harvest.

During the years of World War II (hereafter WWII), the consultant's husband was forced to plow down some of the cotton crop because he was unable to harvest it before the yield was negatively impacted.

Her husband informed her one evening that the next day they would have a group of prisoners of war (hereafter POWs) working on the farm. He arranged for the POW labor through the Farm Bureau. Her initial reaction was one of surprise because the Chavez family had a nephew who was missing in action in the war. (Later the couple also had braceros working on the farm.)

In addition to harvesting cotton, the POWs also thinned the cotton plants. She states that the POWs were not "aggressive." They spoke respectfully to her husband. He would talk to their guard about their work or anything he wanted them to do. Her husband provided the POWs with hoes and "ten-foot cotton sacks."

The consultant discusses the bracero program, and requirements of the program, such as housing.

Tape 1, Side B

Her husband was required to take the braceros into town on Saturdays, so they could purchase groceries.

She states that Johnny Harris was their closest neighbor. He is now deceased. The Tharp family has bought or rents much of the land along Highway 85 North, including some land previously farmed by the Nakayamas.

The consultant states her husband felt that the POWs were better workers than the braceros. Cuca Chavez relates this to the POWs status as prisoners. She observes that the guards were diligent and "on the job."

At times, as a treat, she would prepare tortillas and beans for the POWs. She didn't discuss the use of POW labor with her neighbors. Unlike today, telephones were reserved for conducting "business."

Her assessment of the use of POW labor in New Mexico agriculture is positive: it fulfilled a need that the farmers had for labor.