Filipe Ibarro's 1934 Letter in New Masses
Where the Sun Spends the Winter
San Antonio, Texas
I want the women of New York, Chicago and Boston who buy at Macy's, Wannamaker's, Gimbel's and Marshall Field to know that when they buy embroidered children's dresses labeled "hand made" they are getting dresses made in San Antonio, Texas, by women and girls with trembling fingers and broken backs.
These are bloody facts and I know, because I've spoken to the women who make them. Catalina Rodriguez is a 24-year-old Mexican girl but she looks like 12. She's in the last stages of consumption and works from six in the morning till midnight. She says she never makes more than three dollars a week. I don't wonder any more why in our city with a population of 250,000 the Board of Health has registered 8000 professional "daughters of joy" and in addition, about 2,000 Mujeres Alegres (happy women), who are not registered and sell themselves for as little as five cents.
Catalina Torres has four children and her husband cracks pecans at thirty cents a hundred pounds. He makes about two dollars a week. She says that they pay her thirty cents a dozen for the embroidery and she can only make three dozen a week because of the children.
Maria Vasquez, a spinster, sews the children's dresses at home for fifteen cents a dozen. If she works from dawn to midnight she can make three dozen a day. For each new dress style you have to go to the office first and make a sample. I asked her if she passed the test every time. She ran inside and came out with an envelope in her hand. Read my diploma she says, and you won't ask any more foolish questions.
The "diploma" is a circular letter printed by the thousands on the company letterheads and is addressed to no one in particular. It says her work has been satisfactory and that they are proud of her, and any time she wants work they will be glad to give it to her. The company is the Juvenile Mfg. Corp. Their New York office is E. Edar, 1350 Broadway.
Several years ago our Chamber of Commerce launched a campaign in competition with Florida and California inviting tourists to come to San Antonio, "Where Sunshine Spends the Winter." I don't know whether the tourists came but Eastern manufacturers and Capital came and let out the children's dresses for home work. There are thousands of American-born Mexican girls and women and they work at any price.
Ambrosa Espinoza is thirty and she has worked the last seven years on these "hand made" dresses. I am enclosing her pay envelopes. One week three dollars, the next, two fifty-five and the third only seventy cents. With this she has to pay rent for her shack, pay insurance, support the Catholic Church and feed herself. When I try to talk to her she says: Todos es de Dios, todos es de Dios--everything is from God, everything is from God. She embroiders four dozen dresses a week at seventy-cents a dozen and works from morning till late at night. At night she uses a kerosene lamp. She says that times are getting harder and even American women will take the work. The boss knows this so he reduces the prices every week, and if you don't like it you can leave it. She also works for the Juvenile Mfg. Corp.
She tells me about her brother and how he lost his leg. For twenty-five years he worked for Southern Pacific Railway, and three years ago they laid him off. He looked high and low for work. Then he decided to look in North Texas and he tried to hop a freight. But he lost his balance and the train cut his leg the way the railroad cut the twenty-five years from his life.
As I got out of the shack I can't forget this brother who lies on his iron cot like a skeleton. He uses rags for mattress, and lies motionless, gazing on the Virgin of Guadalupe and the image of the young Jew of Galilee. He prays to them, dreaming of another world.
I want you women up North to know. I tell you this can't last forever. I swear it won't.
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