As the 95th annual Fresno Veterans Day Parade made its way through the city’s downtown streets, one man joined the route to honor a different kind of veteran — the braceros who worked the crops so others could fight the war.
Martin Pereyra Lopez of Fresno, who turned 78 on Tuesday, was a bracero worker between 1955 and 1958 in the Imperial Valley near Mexicali. The bracero program, an agreement between the U.S. and the Mexican governments to supply this country with temporary agriculture workers, started in 1942 during World War II. The program ended in 1964.
So, Lopez said, while most American men were at war, bracero workers like himself made sure those remaining in the country could eat. He calls them “veteranos del campo.” Field veterans.
“It was a tough job,” Lopez recalled in Spanish. He picked lettuce, asparagus, watermelon and strawberries before returning to Mexico. When he moved to Fresno in 2000, he worked as a janitor until retirement.
Lopez offers a unique take on Veterans Day, suggesting that ex-braceros around the country should take part in the holiday as he has for the last six years.
It all started when he got beat up in downtown in 2003. Lopez found out some of the men that pulled the attackers off him were veterans.
“They saved my life,” he said.
While searching for a way to commemorate them, Lopez modified the lyrics of a Spanish song about bracero workers to apply to veterans. He sang the song during the 2009 Fresno Veterans Day Parade while strumming a guitar and riding in a convertible. It has become a tradition ever since.
Sometimes other local ex-bracero workers join him. On Tuesday, as the parade wound down, he stood alone at the corner of Broadway and Inyo Street. He was dressed in American flag colors and wearing a party hat to celebrate his birthday.
Lopez didn’t mind being alone. His goal was simply to show solidarity.
“We helped, cooperated, to win the Second World War by cutting the fruits and vegetables because everyone else was at war,” he said. “I’m hoping to unite those veterans with the ex-braceros — the field veterans.”