Feliciana Jimenor: A Journey of Immigration, Boarding Houses, and the American Railroad

By Sophia Espinoza and Jaidah Garcia

As America ushered in the start of the “Roaring Twenties,” many of the Western states saw monumental developments, transportation included. The American railroad offered a new and efficient way of moving across the country, and in turn, brought along many employment opportunities. During the early 1920s and throughout the decade, there was a large influx of immigrant workers, specifically from Latino/Hispanic communities. Many Latinos came to Oregon to work as laborers. Oregon currently has approximately 2,500 miles of track, which peaked at about 3,300 miles in the 1920s (Burns 2023). Mexican track workers, also known as “traqueros,” made valuable contributions to the growth and development of Oregon’s railroads. Traqueros were recruited to meet the growing labor demands of the expanding rail industry (Garcílazo 2012, 29-36). Many traqueros migrated from Mexico to the United States in search of job opportunities, better wages, and economic security (Garcílazo 2012, 35). They were often recruited by railroad companies seeking cheap and reliable labor for railroad construction projects. The work often involved lifting heavy objects, working in extreme weather conditions, and enduring long hours of manual labor. Traqueros also experienced the systemic racism and exploitation that often resulted in unequal treatment, lower wages, and limited opportunities for advancement compared to their white counterparts. Accidents occurred while working on the railroads. Traqueros often had missing fingers, crushed feet or hands, and limbs. A few foremen favored enlistment of men with lost fingers since it meant they had experience working on the railroads. Traqueros harmed themselves so much that protesting the conditions was not socially permitted or affirmed. Few women found employments working along the men on the tracks but were paid half the wage for the same hours of work and dangers.

1920 United States Federal Census, Oregon Baker County, Huntington District 0018 Sheet 1B
1920 United States Federal Census Oregon, Baker County, Huntington District 0018 Sheet 2A
These twentieth-century railroad worker homes in Caliente, Nevada suggest possible similar housing arrangements for traqueros in Oregon. Julie Nicoletta, “Houses (Union Pacific Railroad Workers’ Houses).” SAH ARCHIPEDIA. July 17, 2018. https://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/NV-01-SO71.

A widow by the name of Feliciana Jimenor came to reside in Huntington, Baker County, Oregon in 1917, where she ran a boarding house for other Hispanic/Latino residents. At 55 years of age, Jimenor was residing in Huntington, Oregon as the head of a boarding house with thirteen other people living under the same roof. Of her roomers, six of them were employed by the railroad companies, two labeled “laborers” with no specificity, one working as a painter at a (presumably) nearby hotel, and the other four other potential wage workers without an occupation listed.

In addition to the laborers with no recorded occupations, two of the recorded boarders are labeled as Jimenor’s grandsons, at ages three and five, respectively. Though a few boarders had no recorded occupation, they likely helped Jimenor with some of her tasks as head of the house, which may have included meals, housekeeping, and groundskeeping. Jimenor’s boarding house may have represented a sort of haven for Hispanic and Latino workers in the Huntington area. Jimenor may have played a crucial role in not only providing a comfortable space for other immigrants but as well as a source of information for getting a job, whether it be on the railroad or somewhere else. 

In a town as small as Huntington, Oregon, Jimenor and her boarders were likely some of the only, if not the only Hispanic/Latino members of the community.

This later image of Braceros working on the railroad tracks suggests possible conditions in Huntington, Oregon. David Colon, “Braceros on Railroad Tracks,” Smithsonian Learning Lab, October 21, 2019. Accessed May 31, 2023. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/traqueros-part-1-the-mexican-american-railroad-workers/WwoUbCJXdAmtma5W

According to Oregon Women in the 1920 Census Born in Mexico, Feliciana and the other women living with her were three out of the four women of Latino/Hispanic heritage in Baker County, Oregon, and out of the total eighty-two women recorded in the 1920 Census. At the time of Jimenor’s boarding house, the number of Latino immigrants in Oregon reached 569 persons in the 1920 census (Garcia, 2022) and White Oregonian’s receptions were less than welcoming. Much like today, it is very likely that the boarders of Feliciana’s house and Jimenor herself were subject to discrimination from the small town of Huntington. Later during the 1930s, Latinos and Hispanic Oregonians were being deported in massive numbers, half of them being US citizens (Garcia, 2022). Even now, over a century later, we see wrongful deportation continue to perpetuate American society. There is a volume of campaign ads that harm the Latino community. These ads generate fear and anger by framing migration as invasion of violent migrants coming to the United States. President Trump’s executive order on immigration made many Latinos targets. In 2021, at least 1,300 Latino agriculture workers in Oregon were fighting deportation (Bauer 2021).

David Colon. Twentieth-century Aurora, Illinois Trackworker Families. Smithsonian Learning Lab. October 21, 2019. Accessed May 31, 2023. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/traqueros-part-2-chain-migration-and-boxcar-communities/4Rp9WpMY67AvdWTe#r/669448.

Being a woman of immigrant background, Feliciana Jimenor represents a sort of daring and beautiful defiance that so accurately depicts the modern-day resistance of Hispanic and Latinos in America. Just participating in a census marked Jimenor and the occupants of her boarding house in history forever. Through mere existence and cultural preservation, Latino immigrants and their families continue to carry on the fire of resistance that Feliciana Jimenor, her thirteen boarders, and so many other Hispanic and Latino immigrants sparked over one hundred years.

About the Authors

Sophia Espinoza participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Spring 2023 Oregon Women’s History course as a student in the Honors Program at Western Oregon University. Sophia is a Biology major with an emphasis in Natural History and Field Biology, who is passionate about veterinary medicine and advocating for Indigenous communities’ rights in everyday life, as well as academia.

Jaidah Garcia participated in Professor Kimberly Jensen’s Spring 2023 Oregon Women’s History course as a student in the Honors Program at Western Oregon University. She is a Psychology and Sociology major. She is also passionate about advocating for the Latinx community.

Further Reading

Primary Sources

1920 United States Federal Census, Oregon, Baker County, Huntington District 0018 Sheet 1B, Sheet 2A.

Colon, David. “Braceros on Railroad Tracks,” Smithsonian Learning Lab, October 21, 2019. Accessed May 31, 2023. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/traqueros-part-1-the-mexican-american-railroad-workers/WwoUbCJXdAmtma5W

Colon, David. “Twentieth-Century Aurora, Illinois Trackworker Families.” Smithsonian Learning Lab. October 21, 2019. Accessed May 31, 2023. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/traqueros-part-2-chain-migration-and-boxcar-communities/4Rp9WpMY67AvdWTe#r/669448

Secondary Sources

“About · Bracero History Archive.” Bracero History Archive, 2021. https://braceroarchive.org/about

Bauer, Janet. “Deportation Harms Oregon’s Economy and Upends Family Security.” Oregon Center for Public Policy. December 15, 2021. https://www.ocpp.org/2021/12/15/deportation-economy-harm/

Colon, David. “Traqueros, Part 1: The Mexican American Railroad Workers.” Smithsonian Learning Lab, October 16, 2019. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/traqueros-part-1-the-mexican-american-railroad-workers/WwoUbCJXdAmtma5W

Colon, David. “Traqueros, Part 2: Chain Migration and Boxcar Communities.” Smithsonian Learning Lab, October 21, 2019. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/traqueros-part-2-chain-migration-and-boxcar-communities/4Rp9WpMY67AvdWTe#r/669448.

Colon, David. “Traqueros, Part 3: The Art of Martín Ramírez (1895–1963).” Smithsonian Learning Lab, October 21, 2019. https://learninglab.si.edu/collections/traqueros-part-3-the-art-of-mart%C3%ADn-ram%C3%ADrez-1895-1963/7EiA42qX849xNY2C.

Garcia, Jerry. “Latinos in Oregon.” Oregon Encyclopedia, Accessed October 14, 2022. https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/hispanics_in_oregon/#.ZHaHon3MLiA

Garcilazo, Jeffrey Marcos. Traqueros Mexican Railroad Workers in the United States, 1870-1930. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2012.

“RR Boxcar Communities.” McHenry County (Illinois) Historical Society and Museum, April 20, 2016. https://mchenrycountyhistory.org/rr-boxcar-communities.

Oregon Secretary of State. “World War I – Oregon and the Roaring Twenties.” Accessed May 30, 2023. https://sos.oregon.gov/archives/exhibits/ww1/Pages/oregon-roaring-twenties.aspx.

“Oregon Women in the 1920 Census Born in Mexico.” Oregon Women’s History Consortium, 2019. http://latest.oregonwomenshistory.org/oregon-women-in-the-1920-census-born-in-mexico/.

Robbins, William G. “This Land, Oregon.” Railroads, Race, and the Transformation of Oregon, Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society. 2002. https://www.oregonhistoryproject.org/narratives/this-land-oregon/political-and-economic-culture-1870-1920/railroads-race-and-the-transformation-of-oregon/#.ZHaIq33MLiA

 “Salem History: The ‘Traqueros’ Who Helped Build Oregon’s Railways.” Salem Reporter, August 19, 2022. https://www.salemreporter.com/2021/10/01/salem-history-the-traqueros-who-helped-build-oregons-railways/.