Last Sunday a group of Kossacks including MB, Navajo, Citisven, Norm, Glen the Plumber, Remembrance, catilinus and myself mad a trip down to Watsonville in the Pajaro Valley to visit agricultural workers where they live. This is my personal take on the day.
The Pajaro Valley is a fertile and vibrant stretch of land, nestled between Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz mountains on the central coast of California. It's location and climate make it a favorable location for growing strawberries, apples and other acgricultural products.
Pajaro means bird in Spanish and you can actually feel yourself soar like a bird as you take in the valley, the mountans and all the scenery. To the north are the towns and cities in Santa Cruz, both an affluentt and a liberal enclave at the same time. To the south lays the wealthy and pictueresque communities of Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel and if you keep goiing south, Big Sur.
The Pajaro River bisects the valley, and also serves as the dividing line Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
This video goes with the diary and shows us in action. They go together and I think you can view them in either order. It was put together quickly so please excuse the lose ends.
There's a long, raised bridge where Highway 1 crosses over Pajaro River and its marsh land. It's a convenience for motorists driving along the bay so that they don't have to slow down or be delayed. Many that drive the route might not even notice the river. Those who look close might, and those who look even closer might notice the string of ragtag encampments along the river, built there by workers who till the fields and harvest the crops in the Pajaro Valley.
Last Sunday, a small group of Kossacks mostly from the San Francisco Bay Area made the trip down to Pajaro Valley and the city of Watsonville - not to take in the gorgeous sites of Monterey Bay, but to venture into parts of town that most of never see. (This was chronicled in an earlier diary).
We gathered together along with our guide, Dr. Ann Lopez, the director of the Center for Farmwork Families, and we made our way down to the river - just east of the highway. There's a fence that seals off the river and we have to crawl through a hole that's been cut in the fence, just like the worker who live along the river do. What we encounter is an a group of outstanding, friendly and warm people who have no choice but to live in conditions that only be describes as somewhere between primitive and deplorable.
But as harsh as their conditions are, we were taken in by the warmth and friendliness of the people. Later that day we meet other workers, who lived in apartments or houses, mostly still with the most rudimentary furnishings, with some better than the others. But every abode we go to the people are kind, welcoming and hospitable. My Spanish is limited - I know the basics. But I know enough to understand that each place we go to we are welcomed in and invited to sit down. When we express thanks and gratitude they respond that no there's no need and the pleasure is theirs.
I get the feeling that with Dr. Ana as our guide, we are golden - and able to get access we otherwise wouldn't because they trust her enough to believe that we're not there to give them trouble. But the kindness still originates with the people. At one home, we're offered exquisitely fresh and delicious strawberries and kiwis by people that can likely barely afford it. The question is hanging there unasked in my mind - but someone answers it for me anyway. The fruit they are serving us is organic. This is a family that has worked in fields and food factories where they are exposed to pesticides they usually aren't even told the names of - and they are offering us organic fruit. The significance is not lost on us
These are people who are forced to endure harsh and difficult labor - sometimes for up to 60 hours a week and are paid close to minimum wage - same make less. We listened to their stories. Everyone knows someone, either in their family or a co-worker or a friend who has been injured or disabled due to unsafe working conditions on the job. They told of being in fields or food factories where pesticide is sprayed or has recently been sprayed - and they know because they can feel the effects and sometimes become sick from it.
These are people who have sacrificed a great deal to get here and whose only goal is to earn enough money to raise their children and hope that they have a better life. When asked, they say this is their dream, for their kids to be able to get and education and not be subjected to agricultural labor. They beam as they tell of older kids enrolled middle school, high school or Santa Cruz's community college.
We here stories of the long and difficult journey to reach the Pajaro Valley. It starts by hiring a "Coyote' to transfer you and your family, if you're taking them, to the US-Mexican border. There, you often hire another "Coyote" to get you across. In one family we talked to, the entire family made it across except for the father. He was detained and sent back to Mexico. Luckily for him, he had hired a "Coyote" who agreed to get himacross no matter how many tries it took, and eventually he made it across the frontier as well.
Other tell us that some of their kids are US citizens and other aren't, and often they themselves are not. One family was going through the process of getting green card (resident alien card) for one of their sons. The immigration lawyer charged them $7000.00 to fill out the application to the INS. Think about what they earn in the fields and let that sink in a bit. The son who was applying, had to return to Mexico and apply for US residency at the US consulate in Ciudad Juaraez, a city that the son was not even familiar with, and for anyone who's been there and knows - it's a dangerous area. He now has to remain in Mexico without his family until his paperwork is approved.
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As we left the river camp and regroup to head for our next destination, they offer us a puppy to thank us visiting and bringing them supplies. It would be the 2nd family that day that offers us a puppy as a return of kindness. We politely decline and as we make our way back to the chain link fence, the rain begins to fall from the clouds that have been hanging around all afternoon. I see someone in our group open an umbrella. I have one too, but I hesitate to open it. I fell embarrassed to have it. I want to get wet and cold from the rain so that I'm forced to endure even one percent of the hardships endured by the farm workers living in the river camp.
I've been heavily under-employed for a while now, but suddenly I realize how much I have - and I'm grateful for it. And I would heavily recommend helping others for anyone who is feeling down.
Thanks for reading!
Also please tonight's earlier related diary: Standing by MB with the most hated in this land (Part II) by catilinus.