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Multicultural Roots Project

The Multicultural Roots Project was created to increase visibility for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in Sonoma County, with a particular focus on Santa Rosa; and to recognize, through historical stories from BIPOC, contributions and impacts that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Working with local historians and community partners, Community Engagement staff gather stories and facts about local BIPOC leaders, as well as historical events and places that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County into what it is today. Each month, we will share five of these stories with the public through multiple communication channels, including the City’s website, social media and this newsletter.

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Sep 29

Benny Carranza: Bracero Farm Worker and Professional Basketball Player

Posted on September 29, 2021 at 11:27 AM by Danielle Garduno

Web_Benny Carranza

The start of World War II brought significant changes across Sonoma County, one of them being the Bracero Program. The Bracero Program was a collaboration between Mexico and the United States that guaranteed Mexican farmworkers basic protections like housing and minimum wage in exchange for their labor. In 1943, the first Braceros arrived from the Mexican border on a chartered bus near Wood Ranch. Many Mexican fieldworkers stepped off, one of them being Benny Carranza.  

When Benny Carranza came to the Bracero program in 1943, he was not your average young man. Carranza had already carved a name for himself as a professional player in the Mexican basketball league. As a bracero, he often traveled in and out of the United States due to his basketball career. But after the basketball season ended, he came to work in the United States to help his fellow workers.  

Carranza was excited to be part of the Bracero Program. He described his first summer as a bracero as a “time of high spirits”, saying that he and many growers were grateful to earn United States dollars to send to their families. Carranza also quickly became a liaison between the growers and owners due to his ability to speak English and Spanish. He soon became a part-time employee for Don Mills, the lead importer of Bracero labor to Sonoma County.   

With Mills, Carranza earned the status of “el patron” in the Mexican community. As the United States Department of Agriculture continued relying on bracero labor, there grew to be a contentious relationship between growers and owners. Farm owners often failed to meet the Bracero Program regulations on housing, food, and living standards. Many owners paid their growers below minimum wage and sometimes paid them late or not at all. Carranza also said that the growers felt degraded as owners would open their mouths and look at their teeth like horses. He soon became the mediator for conflicts among growers and owners to ensure peace between the two groups. He was proud of using his status to help ease the relations between growers and owners by choosing the workers Mills brought to the county from the border.  

After World War II, Carranza continued working for Don Mills until the end of the Bracero Program in 1964. Once the Bracero Program ended, Carranza became a community leader in Sonoma County. He used his voice to highlight the struggles of being a bracero and how to use these experiences to enact meaningful social change. Without his efforts, we would forget the Bracero Program's existence in American and Sonoma County history. We are grateful for his work towards advocating for the voices of the braceros and Mexican American community.

References:

Lawrence, Z. (2005). THE HEART OF AN INDUSTRY: THE ROLE OF THE BRACERO PROGRAM IN THE GROWTH OF VITICULTURE IN SONOMA AND NAPA COUNTIES. Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://scholarworks.calstate.edu/downloads/ns0646574 

LeBaron, G. (1987). Farm labor has history of broken rules. Retrieved 19 December 2020, from https://northbaydigital.sonoma.edu/digital/collection/Lebaron/id/984/rec/3 

LeBaron, G. (1987). From the crisis of the '40s came our fiestas y futbol. Retrieved 19 December 2020, from https://northbaydigital.sonoma.edu/digital/collection/Lebaron/id/1343/rec/2 

LeBaron, G. (1995). Rafael Morales interviewed by Gaye LeBaron: December 1995. Retrieved 19 December 2020, from https://northbaydigital.sonoma.edu/digital/collection/Lebaron/id/3227/rec/1