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Floydada Farmer has Helped More Than 100 Employees Obtain Legal Residency Don Marble has been farming for more than 60 years. In that time, he has done more than just produce crops; he has helped better the lives of hundreds of people. Since 1951, Don and his two brothers, Keith and Fred, have owned and operated Marble Brothers Farms in South Plains, Texas. In his career as a farmer, Don has helped more than 100 of his employees become legal residents or U.S. citizens. “When we started farming we only had 200 acres of land,” Don said. “Over a period of years we had about 800 or 900 acres and needed help.” Don said there was a government program that the brothers started working with in 1952 called the Bracero Program. The program allowed contracted laborers from Mexico to come to west Texas to work in the cotton fields. The program was widely used across the U.S. “Mexican peasants are basically what they were,” Don said. “But they knew how to handle themselves and they were very polite. We had 40 or 50 of them. They were great workers and very smart people.” When the Bracero Program ended in the late 1950s, Don said it put Marble Brothers in a bind for labor. “For a number of years, we worked with just anybody we could get,” Don said. “But they were very unlearned and unskilled people, nothing like the Braceros.” Eventually, the Braceros began making their way back into Texas illegally to find work and Don and his brothers began hiring them again. “They were smart people, very good people and very hard workers,” Don said. “People thought they were just peasants who didn’t ever have a chance to go to school, but they worked harder than the people did in the U.S. Lots of people used Braceros, there just wasn’t anybody else like them to do the job.” Don said occasionally the border patrol would take the workers back to Mexico, but they would always find a way back as quick as they could. He said they were getting paid ten times as much as they could in Mexico. “I think we promised them five dollars a day,” Don said. “We would have paid anything back, but we wanted Braceros because they were available, willing to work and partially trained.” The workers sent most of their money home to Mexico to care for their families, said Don. “That was a tremendous economic asset to Mexico, to have the American dollars coming back,” Don said. “It really raised the standard of living for their families.” Don said that back then, there was not a legal issue with undocumented workers. “They didn’t really cause any problems for us,” Don said. “The legal system didn’t ever concern themselves with us.” After an employee worked for Marble Brothers for an extended period of time, Don said he would help them get their papers to become legal residents or U.S. citizens. “If they were a good hand and they wanted to work for me for a while, I’d help them get their papers and their green cards,” Don said. “We had the help of lawyers and the Catholic church, which is still a big player. I’ve probably helped a hundred people or so.” Don said one particular worker stands out in his mind. A man named Nicolas came to work for Marble Brothers as a Bracero plowing cotton. He said when Nicolas’ contract ran out, he went back to Mexico and came back to work on another contract in Brownsville, Texas. “He wrote us a letter and told us where he was,” Don said. “So whenever he finished his contract, we went down and got him to come work for us.” Don said when they had a chance they helped Nicolas get his papers to become a U.S. citizen and he worked for Marble Brothers for more than 40 years. “He was a main man,” Don said. “He was hard working and had a good family and taught them the value of work.” Don said many of his hired hands became leaders and were able to teach others. He said their sons and daughters would grow up to get better jobs as construction workers, auto mechanics or secretaries. From 1974 to 1984, Don said he and his brothers had more than 25,000 acres of land and ran a cotton gin in South Plains. He said during that time they had 40 or more hired hands at a time, and most of them were from Mexico. “I’ve always said that people who have labor problems had management problems,” Don said. “There’s good people out there and if you’re willing to pay them and treat them right, you can find people willing to work.” Don said he only has eight hired hands now and all of them are legal residents or U.S. citizens. He said with the laws these days, he could get in trouble and be fined or sent to prison for working people illegally. “There’s enough people around here legally now that we can have only legal people working for us,” Don said. Marble Brothers has had many employees work for them for 40 years or more Don said. “We’ve always taken real good care of our people,” Don said. “If they get sick or injured, I see to it that we take care of them. They want to work for us and we are sure to pay them real well.” Don has been married to his wife, Nancy for 45 years. They have one daughter, Donnette and one son, Brett. Nancy said she has had personal relationships with her husband’s hired hands. “Most of them were more like family than anything,” Nancy said. “Some of the girls have helped us here and babysat and we’ve known them all pretty well and anything they needed we’ve tried to get it for them.” Nancy said when families work for them for 40 years or more, their relationships become more like that of a close neighbor. “If they had kids that got married, or their daughters had quinceaneras, we attended those as well as family funerals,” Nancy said. “If they had babies, we provided gifts.” Nancy said her kids benefitted from the close relationships with their hired hands because they went to school with their kids and worked on the farm with them. They did not know any different and it taught her kids to accept anyone and they were cultured by their experiences, Nancy said. She also said her son learned to speak Spanish fluently. “The kids never knew anything other than having those families and children around and they were all in school together,” Nancy said. The couple’s niece, Cindy Marble is the daughter of Don’s late brother, Fred Marble. Cindy grew up in South Plains and now lives in the nearby town of Floydada, Texas. Cindy said she grew up with her dad and uncle’s hired hands on the farm and that was all she knew. She said she never judged them for their race or background because her parents treated them like family. “My school in South Plains was very small. Everyone who went to school there either had parents who farmed in South Plains or worked for a farmer,” Cindy said. “I went to school with the same kids I saw working with Daddy in the field.” Cindy said she remembers going to school with a girl whose parents never had the chance to go to school because they were Braceros. The girl would go home at night and teacher them everything she learned that day, ultimately giving her parents the only education they ever received. “All those kids I went to school with eventually went on to have a pretty good life and get better jobs,” Cindy said. “Their parents really did all they could to make a better life for their kids.” Cindy said she credits her dad and uncles for changing so many lives. “They all did everything they could to take good care of their workers,” Cindy said. “It’s people like them who allow people to live the American dream.” Service Journalism: History of the Bracero Program: • The Bracero Program was based on a series of agreements between Mexico and the U.S. and allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the U.S. to work on short-‐term, primarily agricultural labor contracts. • From 1942 to 1964, 4.6 million contracts were signed, with many workers returning several times on multiple contracts. • The Bracero Program was the largest U.S. contract labor program. • The program was created by executive order because many growers argued that World War II would bring labor shortages to low-‐paying farm jobs. • The program guaranteed payment of at least the prevailing area wage received by native workers, employment for three-‐fourths of the contract period, adequate and sanitary housing, meals, occupational insurance and transportation back to Mexico all at the employer’s expense. Source: http://braceroarchive.org/
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