StoryCorps
7:32 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

Drafted To Fight For The Country That Hurt Him

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 5:49 am

Ruben Aguilar, 85, was forcibly deported from the U.S. 80 years ago as part of a largely forgotten Mexican repatriation program run by the American government.

During the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of people of Mexican descent were forcibly deported to Mexico without due process, including many American citizens. Aguilar, an American citizen, was born in Chicago but was deported with his parents, who were undocumented. At the time, he was 6 years old.

"When I was deported, what I remember is the way that the agents crashed into the house: 'OK, people, line up against the wall,' " he tells his friend Bill Luna, 77, at StoryCorps in Chicago. They were then put into trucks, taken to the train station and shipped out to Mexico, where Aguilar had never been.

"I grew up when that happened. From 6 years old, all of a sudden I felt like I was 15," Aguilar says.

Aguilar could speak fluent English but not Spanish.

He returned to America when he was 18.

"I was an American citizen, so in 1945, I was drafted into the Army. My father explained to me, he says, 'You got a little card from Chicago to join the United States Army. You're going back to your country,' " Aguilar says.

"So I took the bus to the United States. It stopped in Laredo [Texas] before we take off for Chicago, and I asked the bus driver, 'Where is the washroom, sir?' And he said, 'Right around the corner.' So I go around the corner and I see a big sign: No Mexicans or dogs are allowed. And I said, 'Welcome back,' " he says. "It's a funny thing, because when I talk about it, you know, it looks like yesterday. Those things, you never get rid of that."

Luna asks: "How do you want to be remembered, Ruben?"

"I want to be remembered as somebody got hurt by his country, came back to this country and is going to die in his country."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo. Special thanks to Marlen Garcia.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's Friday, time for StoryCorps, recording conversations across the country. Today, we'll hear from a Mexican-American who was deported 80 years ago. It happened in 1933 as part of a largely forgotten Mexican repatriation program run by the U.S. government. During the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of people of Mexican descent were forcibly deported to Mexico without due process, and that included many American citizens.

Ruben Aguilar was one of them. He was born in the United States, but was deported with his parents, who were not citizens. At the time, he was 6 years old. And at StoryCorps, Ruben told his story to a friend, William Luna.

WILLIAM LUNA: So you were born in Chicago?

RUBEN AGUILAR: In Chicago.

LUNA: Now, what happened when you were deported to Mexico?

AGUILAR: Well, when I was deported, what I remember is the way that the agents crashed into the house - OK, people, line up against the wall. We were put into the trucks, taken to the train station, and then shipped out. I grew up when that happened. From 6 years old, all of a sudden, I felt like I was 15.

LUNA: You hadn't been to Mexico before then.

AGUILAR: Never. I could speak fluent English, but not Spanish.

LUNA: Now, how did you return to the U.S.? How did you come back here?

AGUILAR: I was an American citizen. So in 1945, I was drafted into the Army. My father explained to me - he says, you got a little card from Chicago to join the United States Army. You're going back to your country. So I took the bus to the United States. It stopped in Laredo before we take off for Chicago, and I asked the bus driver: Where is the washroom, sir?

And he said, right around the corner. So I go around the corner, and I see a big sign: No Mexicans or dogs are allowed. And I said, welcome back.

You know, it's a funny thing, because when I talk about it, you know, it looks like yesterday. Those things, you never get rid of that.

LUNA: How do you want to be remembered, Ruben?

AGUILAR: I want to be remembered as somebody who got hurt by his country, came back to this country, and is going to die in this country.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: That's Ruben Aguilar, remembering being forcibly deported with his family 80 years ago. He was speaking with his friend Bill Luna at StoryCorps in Chicago. This interview will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. The StoryCorps podcast is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: