Filed Under:

Drafted To Fight For The Country That Hurt Him

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 six years old, all of a sudden I felt like I was 15," Aguilar says.

Aguilar could speak fluent English, but not Spanish.

He came back 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/.

NPR

No Longer Omar: Actor Michael K. Williams On Lucky Breaks And Letting Go

Over the course of his career, Williams says he's learned to separate himself from his characters (like The Wire's Omar). In HBO's The Night Of, he plays a powerful prison inmate named Freddy.
NPR

#FoodPorn, Circa 1600s: Then And Now, It Was More About Status Than Appetite

A new study of old masters finds that capturing and showing off decadent and expensive meals is a decidedly old-fashioned practice. Like today's Instagrammers, it was all about projecting an image.
NPR

Spurned Sanders Supporters Disrupt Day 1 Of DNC With Boos And Jeers

Outside the convention, supporters of Bernie Sanders demonstrated against what they said was a rigged system, while the atmosphere turned chaotic inside the convention hall.
NPR

The Big Internet Brands Of The '90s — Where Are They Now?

Verizon's purchase of Yahoo will close the book on one of the oldest Internet companies. What happened to the other famous 90s brands, like GeoCities, Netscape and CompuServe? A nerdy remembrance.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.