Graciela immigrated to California in search of opportunities. She joined her husband who was farming in Delano, California, and together they have been working the land, building a life, and raising three daughters. Guadalupe, the eldest, grew up watching her parents get up at dawn to pick blueberries and grapes for the family. Raised by hard-working parents, Guadalupe learned perseverance, the value of hard work and the love of family. Six months ago, Guadalupe and her family packed the family truck and headed south. Guadalupe had earned a scholarship to pursue her academic dreams at UCI. Apart for the first time, the mother and daughter embarked on the next chapter of their lives.
I was born in Michoacán, Mexico, a beautiful place that has become very unsafe; people stay inside after dark.
Fourteen years ago, I made the decision to move to Delano, California. My husband was already a resident. He filed immigration papers for us, and we joined him. We came to fight for a better life and better opportunities for our children.
A Mother and a Farm Worker
I came to Delano with my daughter, Guadalupe, and her little sister, Itzel, who was only a year old. I started farming right away. My husband’s niece would watch my children and I also relied on daycare. When I got pregnant with my third one, I had to stop. It was a high-risk pregnancy, but after she was born, I returned to work.
Delano Life is Farm Life
In Delano, we grow grapes, pistachios, and blueberries. Grape picking begins in mid-July and ends in November. After picking grapes, we prepare the fields for the next year.
The grapes, they like to climb. Both blueberries and grapes are exhausting jobs. But I don’t mind hard work.
Blueberry picking season begins in April and ends in mid-June. You pick them with your hands, which can be difficult because they are very small and grow all through the leaves. Luckily, the blueberries leaves don’t have thorns. Blueberry picking can give you a backache. You have to carry more than one bucket around your waist, and as they fill up, each weighs about 4-6 pounds. When picking, we look for the blue ones. The blue ones are the good ones. But if we only pick blue ones, the workers who pack, and sort, who take out the green ones and the leaves, they wouldn’t have work.
Grape season starts in April. You have to watch for black-widows, bugs, heat, and pesticides. Working the grape vines gives you a sore back, too.
The vines are really tall and so it can get difficult. It gets really hot. There’s a lot of dirt, dust, and chemicals. Sometimes, the work can make you feel like crying. As you reach upward to tend to the grapes, your head looks up and it feels heavy. Your neck gets sore.
A Typical Work Day
We get up at 5:30 am. We work 8 hours and then head home. The company is not too far. It’s about 20 minutes away from our home. The work involves many tasks. You have to fit the vines, move them around, tie them up. We climb, we tie, we shift the plants and the branches. The process takes about two months.
I used to cry because the work is hard. Your arms are up, your head is up. It’s hot. But one adjusts. It is a sacrifice, but we are so grateful to have work.
They smell strong. Our bosses try to spare us and move us out while the neighbors spray.
But the Poison Travels in the Wind.
As they fumigate in nearby farms, there really is nowhere to hide from the fumes, even if we try to move away.
The workers in surrounding farms start to feel light-headed and dizzy. What we breathe is pure poison. Some people get so ill that they break out into hives.
They usually remove us for 2 hours while they fumigate. We are not allowed to stay there.
Breaks and Lunches
In the morning we have 15-minute breaks. We take another break in the afternoon and a half hour for lunch. We get plenty of water to drink.
The work remains very tough work but the companies have made improvements. In the recent years, they’ve tried to make shady areas for us. When we pick blueberries, it gets so hot, so they build canopies, like greenhouses, to create a little bit of shade. They also give sick farmworkers i.v. treatments. If we faint, they send us to the clinics. We work really hard and they do what they can to help us stay healthy.
My Husband and I-We Have Always Been a Team
My husband and I have always worked together. We have been married for 20 years and we do everything together, but he is losing his sight. He is 17 years older than I am and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure. He can no longer see out of one eye and can barely see out of his other eye, so I am the family driver.
Typically, there are groups of 60 farmers overseen by supervisors. We work side by side with family teams but each family helps their own. We are friendly with others, but we are all focused on working fast and hard to bring money for our own families. Families move about, too. They move to other companies that offer better pay or better managers. They work with pistachio, mandarins, and oranges.
Slow Season-Means Relief to the Body but Tough on the Bills
I make ten dollars an hour. After taxes, not much is left.
In the last 3 weeks, we’ve only been working for 6 hours. This is not enough to survive. I still have to pay the rent and bills. They cut our hours because they say the coolers are filled with grapes. It is hard to survive sometimes, without a fixed schedule.
Our family, we are our own work team. We pack, and my husband carries the produce on a cart. My sister also helps pick the grapes and places them on trays. We bring everything out of the field, we pack it and put together boxes filled with produce. We get paid fifteen cents per box. We process about 80 to 90 boxes. I bring home about $380 per week, which adds up to $1200 per month after taxes. Our rent is $900 a month, not including utilities. Not much is left to eat. We live day to day.
We used to be able to bring fruit home to eat but the rules have changed. They told us that people used to bring home too much, and now sometimes they let us bring home one bag.
The Cold Months are Tough-When the Plants go to Sleep, Everything stops.
During the cold months, nothing grows. It is pointless to look for other farming jobs in the area because all plants are resting. It gets so cold. Everything freezes over. Sometimes, you can pick oranges but not many.
Surviving the Winter Months Requires Creativity. You have to Invent Jobs when All Families are Doing the Same.
Most of us have to file unemployment during the winter months. But we don’t settle for that.
I Sell Makeup To Help My Family
When my girls were young, I told my husband,
“I’m not willing to live in poverty, and I don’t want to answer questions, like “what did you do with all the money?” “You already spent it all?”
Sometimes, we, women, want to buy ourselves and our families something extra.
One day, I had an idea. I was pregnant at the time and I thought, maybe I can sell makeup!
The inspiration came one day when I was doing laundry in a local laundromat. I saw an ad from Jafra, a make-up company from Mexico. The ad said, “sell makeup and keep 50% of what you sell.” So I went to my husband and said:
“Can you loan me $200?”
“Para que?” he responded. “Make-up? Woman, who’s going to buy make-up in Delano?”
“Come on. Trust me. Let me borrow your card. I promise. I will return what I borrow.”
My husband let me borrow the money and I ordered my first make-up kit, with perfume bottles and all.
I was so excited. I grabbed my kit, took to the streets and started selling. I went door to door and visited every woman I knew, friends and acquaintances. The best part? After a month, I went to my husband and said:
“Here you go. Here is your money back.” “Look. I even have some money left over to buy us things.”
Ever since then I have been selling makeup to supplement my income during the winter season. The company is Jafra, a Mexican cosmetic company.
I have many clients, but I don’t always sell a lot. I give them facials, do their make up and spray perfume. The challenge is that when money doesn’t come in because we are not farming, women don’t have extra money to spend on makeup.
I sell more during farming season. Then, women work hard and they want to treat themselves. Sometimes my clients ask me to order special perfume or makeup as a special gift for their little girls.
I sell makeup because farming is not enough. We have to provide for our families. We have to charge forward.
Giving up and waiting are not options.
I have a sick mother back in Mexico who depends on me. My girls, here, they need shoes for school and other things. I don’t make much, but every bit helps.
When I get a little money from my makeup sales, I tell my girls, let’s go treat ourselves.
When I Can’t Sell Makeup, I Bake and Sell Bread.
When no one buys makeup, I bake breads, and my neighbor and I sell them together. During the winter months, this allows us to make extra. My neighbors have gotten used to my bakings and expect it:
“You are going to start baking soon?” I bake my wheat bread, sell it and sometimes I even make $20 from my sales.
We have to work hard to survive the winter season. Unemployment takes a long time to kick in. This means, that there are a couple of weeks with nothing coming in, which is difficult. I try to anticipate and plan. I will think of side jobs and work extra hard so my family won’t go without.
There used to be five of us to support in our Apartment. My daughter Guadalupe is Off to College Now.
My daughter Guadalupe started kindergarten in Delano. I am extremely proud of her. She has always been a great daughter, very studious. Her youngest sister even says: “My sister Guadalupe is the most of intelligent of all of us.” Guadalupe is very organized. One of Guadalupe’s dreams is to graduate and help her family. I wish all her dreams will come true; that she will charge ahead and let nothing stand in the way of her dreams.
My husband used to always tell Guadalupe: “Study hard, hija, so you can go to college in Fresno.”
But Guadalupe would answer: “Ah, no papi, I am studying so that I can go wherever I want.”
My husband insisted: “No, go to Fresno! How will we take care of you if you go too far? Stay close to us.”
But Guadalupe always thought for herself.
Looking Back on My Childhood
When I was young, we would wake up at 5 a.m. My mom would take us to my aunt’s house where we would go back to sleep until it was time to go to school. After school, we would go back to my cousin’s and stay there until my parents came home.
Growing up in Delano, I went to Del Vista Elementary school. Most families sending their children there were either farmers or did field work to supplement their income.
I never worked in the fields until this past summer. I worked in a potato line, throwing out the rotten ones, removing the rocks, dirt, critters, just sorting the potatoes. I worked about 12 hours a day, and yes, it was hot!
My parents work very hard, including Saturdays. My mother dedicates part of her time to go out to do her little business. On Sundays, when she doesn’t work she really likes spending time with friends and family.
How a Girl from Delano found out about UCI
I have always been self-driven. I learned about UCI (the University of California, Irvine), through my charter school, the Wonderful College Prep Academy, which was founded by the company that owns, Wonderful Halos and Wonderful Pistachios. It is a school for the children of farmers, for the parents who work for the Wonderful Company, and for the community. The Wonderful Company offers $6000 UC scholarships and $4000 for the Cal States. The award gets sent quarterly and we have to manage it. Even though we have graduated and are now at the university, the academy continues to send regional retention coordinators that meet with us once a week. We talk about our classes and our grades and how we are doing. My coordinator works for the company and travels from LA to see me every week at UCI.
The charter school is the reason I learned about UCI, and the majority of my classmates ended up going to college. We learned about our college options because the school took us on lots of trips sponsored by the company. We did college tours during the winter break, Thanksgiving, and summer. We visited colleges all over California, and on Fridays we wore college t-shirts to celebrate college.
I visited all of the UC campuses except for two, most of the state colleges, and some private schools.
I chose UCI because I liked the environment and the structure of the school. Everything is in a circle. I thought to myself, it will be easy to find my way here. I just completed my first quarter at UCI. I have passed all my classes and done well. I was able to manage my time and handle the heavy course load. Right now, I’m thinking of majoring in Economics and Political Science. I’m also considering some type of government job, but I’m not sure. I’m still exploring.
There is a small group at UCI from Delano, including my roommate. Whenever we get a break from school, we meet up with other friends in LA and take the train back home. In a 3-5 hour train ride we are back in Delano. My mother gets so excited when I come home. She picks me up at the train station and she always loves to see me.
The first time I came home, everything seemed different. People were tatted up. The hair colors were different, they even dressed and spoke differently. And at the same time, I felt like I was back home like I had never left. My friends and I, we continue to hang out.
I made the right decision choosing UCI. But sometimes I get homesick. I’m studying to have a great profession someday, but more importantly, to help my parents so that they don’t have to work this hard the rest of their lives. They have made incredible sacrifices for their daughters. Soon, it will be my turn to give back.
In the meantime, my mother and father will work the land. I will study hard, looking forward to breaks when I will get to board the train and head home. What awaits me in Delano is home, family, love and delicious posole.
A Life of Service—Gregorio “Don Goyo” Alonso Garcia has been leading Horizontes al Futuro for 21 years. Horizontes provides shelter and education for street youth and seeks to inspire new models of manhood to break the cycle of poverty, abuse and family desertion.
Horizontes al Futuro is a non-governmental, non-profit organization formed in 1988. It is a rehabilitation center for street children in Comayagua, Honduras. Horizontes does not receive any help from the national government of Honduras. The center is supported through a Marist NGO in Spain whose work is based on the principle of “SED” = Solidarity, Education and Development.
Under the leadership of Executive Director, Gregorio “Don Goyo” Alonso García, Horizontes is home to 40 boys ranging in ages from 6 to 18 years. At the center, they receive an education based on dialogue, understanding, and love. The aims of Horizontes are for destitute children to experience a feeling of belonging, to complete the highest levels of education possible, to develop specialized skills, and to reintegrate into family and society.
The center provides them with an holistic education, including: intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and recreational needs. All the boys go to school in town. Horizontes also provides vocational training in tailoring, welding and computing.
A goal of Don Goyo is to ensure that those who want to earn a college degree receive as much support as needed. To ensure graduation, Horizontes helps its college attending student by providing them with shelter and food so they can finish. In turn, college students give back by helping Horizontes’ mentoring of incoming street children.
Some 300 boys have stayed in Horizontes in the last 18 years. Some have stayed for a short season; others, have completed high school or learned a trade. Some have returned to the streets, some have ended in jail, and a number of them have made it to college.
Horizontes al Futuro believes that homeless children represent one of the most serious human rights violations in Central America. Living in the streets to fend for themselves, they are deprived of their most basic human rights. Under the guidance of Don Goyo, and through the efforts of his team, Horizontes sets out to restore dignity, self-esteem and the life expectancy they deserve.
A Life of Service
Don Goyo was born in Spain and is a member of the Maristas brotherhood. He spent 14 years in Africa. Twelve of those years were spent in the Congo. He also spent a season in Rwanda and 15 days in Kenya. The Maristas are a spiritual and educational group started by St. Marcellin Champagnat, a French priest that founded the Congregation of the Marist Teaching Brothers in 1817. They are dedicated to youth formation in the neediest communities in the world.
Don Goyo studied psychology in the University of Salamanca and completed a magisterium in theology and psychology. After his mission to Africa, he returned to Spain to complete his university studies.
“These were the 70’s and I was very interested in the liberation movements in Latin America and the theology of liberation in particular. This was a time rife with warfare in Central American countries, like Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. My dream was to move to Central America and help destitute children there.”
What follows is the story of Don Goyo’s efforts to help children against all odds and with unwavering resilience.
An Interview by Soledad Quartucci
A Home for Homeless Street Children in Comayagua, Honduras.
Horizontes al Futuro is a center that assists street children in Comayagua, Honduras. It was already in existence when I arrived in Honduras. In fact, I was sent to replace a failing administration. The budget was not properly balanced and the infrastructure needed work. The Maristas brothers knew that my dream was to be of service in Latin America and sent me there. It’s been 21 years since I became the director of Horizontes al Futuro. I hope to keep going as long as God gives me health. I’ve managed to stay healthy and disease free, except for a minor bout with malaria.
How Do Street Children Find Horizontes?
In my 21 years in Honduras I have met so many people. Most people in Comayagua know me personally, or know of Horizontes. Sometimes, I find the children in the streets; other times, mothers and grandparents bring them to the center. The national center for children and families send them to me as well. Children who are removed from homes, are first taken to DINAF, the national organization for children, adolescents and families. DINAF contacts me, and if I have room, I assume their care.
Sometimes mothers bring them. Other times, when our children go home during vacations, neighbors notice a positive change in the children’s behavior. They ask about Horizontes, and then they bring their own children to the center. When this happens, I have to communicate with DINAF. They are supposed to conduct a socio-economic study of those homes, but it does not always happen. If DINAF determines that a child needs to be removed, they give the child’s family an order of enrollment and we make room for him. But simply put, many children show up and ask for help.
New Families-New Hope
We are mothers, fathers, and educators. We try to provide them with everything they need. Food, shelter, scholarships to private schools, after-school academic support, a local psychologist and spiritual support. We also provide workshops and clinics, some on location, and some out in town. Our students are working in welding, tailoring, painting and technology.
Horizontes’ Beginnings: An American Base Provides Opportunities and Challenges.
Horizontes started in 1989. The center was built at a time when the Americans had opened a base close to Comayagua, about 8 kilometers from here in a place called, Palmerola.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that the American base is to blame for the rise of street children, but it is true that it has indirectly played a big role.
On the weekends, Americans wanted to go to Comayagua to dance clubs, to the restaurants or to travel outside the base. Local poor children saw an opportunity to make a few dollars by showing Americans around and catering to them. When a few started earning a dollar per gig, many children who were living in poverty flooded the streets looking to earn a little something from the Americans. They watched their cars and showed them around. The wave of street children contributed to gangs, drugs and organized crime.
Friendship, Soccer and An Opportunity for Healing
Today, colonial Comayagua is a beautiful place. You don’t see street children here.
When I first arrived in Comayagua, the colonial plaza is where I would find the young men, sleeping, living in the park, and getting high. My strategy to help them unfolded step by step. I first approached the oldest members of the group, about 7 of them. I invited them to start a soccer team and I would talk to them, but mostly listen. At the beginning of my time in Comayagua many children lived in the streets. They slept there, begged, stole and everything in between.
I’m not saying that things have drastically improved from the way things were 20 years ago. Today, you won’t find street children in central Comayagua. But in the colonies, that’s where 90 percent of them live. That’s where you’ll find children who don’t go to school. Many are gang members. I have a group here in Horizontes whose mothers brought them in because 16 and 18 year olds were using their young children to sell drugs. The older ones use the younger ones to sell drugs and also to turn them into users. Then, they can threaten them.
For the youth to have a chance, the situation needs to change on so many fronts.
Of this initial group, some ended up in jail. I visited them while they were in confinement. Today, I am a member of a commission that helps youth transitioning out of jail. We want them to know that someone cares, and that there is support awaiting them once they are released.
Horizontes al Futuro begins to Grow
Horizontes al Futuro grew step by step. We started receiving help from the embassies and from the Marista brotherhood in Spain. First, we focused on improving the infrastructure, the buildings, changing the roofs, putting up windows and as we improved the buildings we could take in more children adding up to 30.
We started bringing educators to the team, and this allowed us to grow up to 45. Today, we have 36 youth living in Horizontes. They stay in three homes according to age. One for the little ones, one for the middle school aged ones and one for the older ones.
Most of these children come from living in extreme poverty and from single parent homes.
Fatherless in Comayagua
Ninety-eight percent of the children who stay in Horizontes do not know their father. A small percentage of the children have a stepparent, but in my years of experience, having a stepparent has in many cases, made their situation worse. Some of the children in Horizontes turned to the streets and against their mothers because of a stepfather.
Who are the Children who come to Horizontes?
The profile of the child that comes to Horizontes is a youth living in a family suffering extreme poverty. The neighborhoods are often surrounded by gangs, and drug consumption is common.
Socio-Economic Realities of Honduran Families
Sadly, this is a common problem because the socio-economic reality of families in Honduras is precarious. We have supermarkets and many shops in Comayagua, but 70 percent of the families cannot enjoy them because products constantly go up in price.
Food goes up. Tools go up, but Salaries Don’t
The great majority of workers labor without a fixed salary. What they earn is not enough to survive. They may have enough to eat, but not enough for clothes or health. The lucky ones with full-time jobs in factories do not make minimum wage, because the companies can pay whatever they choose. Businesses know that people need to work and people need to work so they accept what is offered, even if it’s below minimum wage.
Educational Reform is Urgently Needed
We need a better education for the children. The ministry of education in Honduras does not uphold the laws of public education which state that education should be free and accessible to children and adolescents. Instead, families are expected to pay for salaries, for the building of bathrooms, for a guard, for benches, for painting, for school repairs, but most of our families cannot do that.
There are some teachers who are so lovely and so selfless. They are devoted to their students, and even go without eating so that their students can have a lunch. But there are also other teachers that humiliate the poor student. Instead of encouraging them to come to school with a little notebook, welcoming them to their classrooms, even if they don’t have shoes, they do the opposite. They tell them that without shoes they cannot stay in class. Without supplies, they should not come to school. If you don’t bring this, I’ll deduct 10 points from your homework. This is why we have such high school dropout rates.
Mothers’ Choices Are Complex and Few
There are mothers who don’t enroll their children in school because they cannot afford it. If the mother is a single parent, she has to find ways to find work and to help her family. This means that her children stay home by themselves, and don’t go to school. The house has nothing to entertain them or feed them. There is no refrigerator, food, or light. They are almost forced to go to the streets in search of something to eat and something to do. In such a fragile state, a young boy becomes prey to gangs. He is easy to enlist because there is no one there for him. Mothers have no time to spend with them so they find companionship in gangs.
Mothers become Mothers at a Young Age
Some of the children’s mothers get pregnant very young, as early as 12 or 13 years old. Many of them are abandoned before the child is even born. Often times, the father refuses to recognize the child and moves on. Sometimes mothers may have children from three different fathers and none of them will stay. These young mothers can feel defeated and suffer from low self-esteem. They have been through many abandonments and somehow they have to provide food and work. When pregnant, they go to the hospital and they can sit there all day waiting for help. These mothers suffer on many counts. They want the best for their children, but they lack the most essential necessities.
In a Town Without Fathers, Horizontes Provides Hope
Poor mothers often reach out to us and tell us they are on their own and they need help. In these cases, the father has usually left.
Where have the Men Gone?
Some explanation can be provided through the immigration problem. Due to financial hardship, men and women have left to the U.S., to Europe, and to Spain, specifically. There is also internal migration patterns to San Pedro Sur or other commercial zones.
What is a Day in Horizontes like?
We are in the process of formalizing our day. There have been proposals to build a school within our walls but I haven’t wanted to do that. I want the children to feel as normal as possible. Most people don’t have schools inside their homes. I want them to live in Horizontes as if it were their home, surrounded by a family that loves and supports them, like most families do.
We have 12 year olds that have never been to school or have dropped out.
Here, they wake up, make their beds, take a bath, take care of his personal belongings, the hallways and different chores. Each of them completes a small task per day.
After breakfast, we have a group of 6 who attend private school. I’ve been able to get scholarships for them.
Another school, the Liceo Cardenal Oscar Andres Rodriguez charges us less than regular tuition. I’ve been able to have up to 5 enrolled there at a time, but now I only have two.
I take all the children to school and pick them up. I go to the Inmaculada and to the Instituto Liceo Cardenal. Some of the peer students drop them off in the Escuela Nazareth.
Five of them stay here to attend workshops. Welding is offered from 8-10 a.m. and tailoring takes place from 10 a.m.-12pm.
We have 9 that go out to town for a mechanics workshop. They go to Taller Hernandez, Taller Jonathan, and Taller Amaya. When they return from the schools and workshops, they wash their uniforms, hang them to dry, then take a break, and play a game until dinner.
From 2:00pm to 3:30pm, we have daily after-school support. Schools typically send homework for them to do. We support them with topics, such as writing, and math. We help them improve across the curriculum. After scholastic support, we have soccer matches on Mondays and Fridays.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we have an hour of English lessons. An American woman from Chicago leads these lessons.
We teach catechism, and every 15 days, we visit a nursing home.
When returning from the workshops, they shower, wash their clothes, engage in an activity, have some playtime and dinner.
They play games, watch movies in their homes, and then rest.
On Fridays, from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm there is a gathering in church. Youth from neighboring villages, about 200, gather to pray.
On Saturdays, some take mechanics’ lessons out in town.
I get together with the middle school ones and the oldest ones from 8:30 to 10 am to discuss topics, such as personality, and dating.
On Saturday, after finishing lunch, if they are from Comayagua, there is a group of them that head home. If they are from another town, like La Libertad or Tegucigalpa, they go home every 15 days and they return on Saturdays by 6pm.
With the children who stay, we organize some outing or fun game.
Sundays at 9:00 a.m, we go to church. The oldest and middle school children are in youth ministry.
Developing a Feeling of Belonging, a Sense of Home and Working toward Different Outcomes
I want the children to feel normal, and to have a healthy routine: go to church, work, go to school, the university, participate at home, go home on the weekends, and reintegrate and contribute to society.
Regarding education and human formation, these are not quantifiable. To shape a person, to help them develop, to bring out their best qualities, to encourage them to give the best of themselves, these processes cannot be quantified.
If you plant love, hope and self-esteem in the human heart, some day it will give fruit.
I will admit that some times there are downturns and frustrations. Sometimes the dreams one has for them and the expectations we build for them are not reached. But I do believe that every good intention planted in their hearts will some day grow.
How to Assess the Value of Horizontes’ Work on Behalf of Street Children
No matter how short their stay, they will leave knowing that while in Horizontes, teachers, catechists, volunteers, American groups, and university students came to Horizontes out of love and care for them.
I have lived through many heartbreaking situations following the sudden departure of a child in our care. In those cases, I am left hoping, if only I had had more time.
Sometimes they opt for the streets and rejoin bad influences, but they also return. We have seen every case.
Some children have ended up in jail.
We have 4 right now in jail. This past week, I visited them.
I tell them, “When you were in Horizontes you didn’t listen to me and now, you call me from jail. “Don Goyo, no one is coming to see me. Don Goyo, I need soap.”
Some Horizontes Graduates Have Made it to the University
Regarding their educational level, they highest level achieved has been university studies. I currently have 4 enrolled in the university. Two of them have earned university degrees. A good group has completed the bachelors’ program. Many others have completed mechanics, welding and painting trainings.
The Challenges of Reintegrating their lives Back Home.
Sometimes a visit to the family home creates confusion, depression and setbacks. There is a little bit of everything. On principle, they have to learn to stay strong in any environment and this includes, going home. It is a true test of character when they go home and they stay inside, instead of going to the streets. We encourage them to be of service, to contribute to their families and to help them. Many are able to manage it well and willingly return to Horizontes on Sundays. For some, home visits are tough. During Holy Week many went home.
When they return, some show decreased enthusiasm, and some go back to vice, but these are real life risks that sometimes they have to go through.
On our end, it is very difficult to watch all the progress made, come crumbling down.
We enlist the mothers’ support in our efforts to help the children. The last Sunday of every month, the mothers are invited. Sometimes we get about 80 percent attendance. We put on shows and plays for them. I tell the mothers, that when the boys come home, to encourage them, to congratulate them when they show good behavior. Help them with supportive words, ask them to help clean their homes.
But sometimes, the environment in the homes and neighborhoods is not the best and it is certainly a temptation. Some are definitely not strong enough. This is a constant struggle and a constant worry.
And even in the worst cases all that we have tried to do has not been in vain. We have showed them respect, love and made them feel valued.
The Horizontes Team:
For formal education they go out in town. I have 3 educators, an assistant director who helps when I’m not here. Two Horizontes’ graduates who are currently attending the university. We help them complete their university studies. They couldn’t pay for transportation and food. They stay with us and help us with the children and we help them so they can afford to finish and graduate.
One of our educators came to Horizontes when he was 7 and he was able to complete his education all the way to a bachelor’s degree, which he is currently finishing. He studied pedagogy in English and computer science. The psychologist we have on staff is from DINFA. We are part of the DINFA network that provides children’s advocacy and rights organization. We currently have a psychologist on staff six days a week.
Our healthcare system consists of a first aid kit. We are also lucky. We are across from the San Benito Hospital. The first consultation with a doctor takes place there. If anyone needs surgery, we have to schedule and wait. When we need ultrasounds or x-rays, those are done through private clinics, and we try to negotiate with them for affordable rates.
Some doctors and dentists also work with us.
We Welcome and Appreciate our Summer Volunteers:
During July and August I have 2-4 volunteers from Spain who are professors in Spain and during their holiday, they come out to help.
Since our opening, we have had more than 100 volunteers from 38 nationalities. We used to have an Exchange program with youth from across the world. They used to come from Norway, Denmark, Portugal and England. We had a therapist come stay with us for 2 months.
When they come in July, they help us with everything. They play, take them to school, support them with homework, accompany us on fun trips. Going to the beach is a 4-hour round trip, but we’ve been there a few times. We do enjoy trips to Villa Mar, a water park. They waive our entrance fee.
When our volunteers visit us, they are like another mother. They share in the daily routine of the children.
In Need of Support: Our Staff Works Around the Clock
We could certainly use more help, but we manage. It entails a sacrifice. We are with them all day long. There are no fathers around. If the father is present and goes to work he barely sees his children. Mothers also work.
Here in Horizontes, the educator stays all day. On the weekends, they take turns going home. They take 3 days off to replenish their energies and to spend time with their own families.
How Long Do Children Stay in Horizontes?
The children that come to Horizontes are at least, 6 years old. We need them to be able to take a bath on their own, and wash and dry their clothes. They are as old as 18. Some of our students stay longer. If they are completing university degrees and workshops, we encourage them to stay. We take into account the possibility of their self reliance once they leave us, and always consider individual and family circumstances. We had a pair of brothers who fared very differently. One ended up in jail the other went on to the university. I stand behind them and want them to finish their studies. Sometimes they stay 2 or 3 years, or leave sooner. It varies.
Leaving Too Soon
I have had very painful experience with unexpected goodbyes. We are in the process of helping them and we are fully invested and care deeply for each of them. We try to provide them with everything we anticipate that they could need: peers, educators, psychologists. We organize soccer matches. We stock our library, we have tvs. We get scholarships for schools. We take them to the doctors. We go to waterparks. We try to cover all the basics but sometimes the appeal of the living on the streets still wins.
Sometimes the teens who come in with drug addictions don’t stay. Age and time spent surrounded by our resources does sometimes affect the outcome of the children’s situation. Our goal is to help them get university degrees and we know most cannot in homes without tables, dictionaries, or the internet.
The children live in homes inside of Horizontes. The homes house them according to ages. Each home has an educator assigned to the group. We have offices, soccer fields workshops kitchen, lunch room, library, televisions. When we dont’ have enough staff, we train our eldest students to help the younger ones. So the children learn to live communally in their homes and within Horizontes.
They are so grateful. For the smallest, little gifts they are so happy. Faith, helps them, too. They couldn’t survive otherwise. Their positive spirit helps them overcome and not despair.
But I do wish they fought more. I see missing a spirit of vindication and fight. All the president and politicians have to do is show up with a bag of concrete, and a bag of lies and they believe them. I wish they stood up for themselves. I haven’t seen much progress, and yet this is isn’t their fault. The government sets the tone. They wait for help from Taiwan for a hospital and for this country and that country’s handouts.
The government is responsible for its people living on their knees, begging for handouts. There is welfare for transport, handouts for everyday things; days where bags of help are announced. Officials make appearances with 50 bags with handouts and 500 people show up. Just barely enough. Countries from around the world send help but it doesn’t always reach the neediest.
What can be done today?
All we can hope is that we give them enough love, education and encouragement so that by the time they leave, we can witness them make different, healthy decisions. It will be up to them. They will have to tap into all the goodness within them. To spread their wings, develop their qualities and live a different life.
I now have 9 in mechanics, and I would love to see them prosper, overcome, make a life for themselves and for their children. I long to see them reach their goals, find a meaningful job, study. As they leave Horizontes, other young ones will need shelter and we will be here for them.
For our students, we hope that they will form healthy families where fathers stay and love their children. That they love their wives, and that they realize how much children need their fathers. I want to see other types of homes, homes with love, support, unity, care and compassion. Homes different than the ones that lead them to the streets in search for what was missing.
I hope they will work in professions that their parents could not. And I also hope that in gratitude they will return and help raise other street children.
We know that what we do is but a grain in the sand.
They need Fathers, but also a Society that invests in them and embraces them, too.
The Ultimate Dream:
Ultimately, the dream is that they don’t repeat the treatment that they suffered through. One of the young men who grew up in Horizontes, David, now lives in the United States. He married a Puerto Rican woman who, unfortunately, died. When his little one was born, he used to get on his knees and whisper to him,
“Don’t be afraid son. I will never leave you. I am your father for life. A different father, a different husband. A father, unconditionally.”
David is a gift in a world of trouble. He is a small but magnificent change. Our work continues and we can only hope for more Davids and more fathers that love their children and stay.
For volunteering opportunities or to support Horizontes al Futuro please contact:
“I see myself in a lot of these students. They want to learn. They are very curious about everything and very aware of the long hours and the hard work their parents are doing. They don’t want that for themselves. They want something different, something better.” Oscar Ramos, Sherwood Elementary teacher in Salinas, California, as told in East of Salinas.
The documentary film, East of Salinas, tells the story of Oscar, a heroic teacher and his student Jose, both the sons of migrants. There are many powerful themes packed in this documentary: A devoted teacher, a precocious undocumented child, migrant families struggling to survive, and the effect of immigrant reform on all of their lives. As the documentary tells, Oscar has big dreams for his students and for Jose, a young 8 year old student that reminds him of himself.
He teaches his 3rd graders to dream big, to imagine a life beyond the lettuce fields. He, too, was born in Mexico. Ramos has been teaching children of migrants at Sherwood Elementary for 15 years.
Below, are excerpts from East of Salinas that capture the voices, thoughts and hearts of Oscar, Jose, Jose’s Mother Maria, and Jose’s Stepfather Jaime. Together, their stories take us to the fields of Salinas, and to the daily dreams that weave their lives.
“My students are mainly Mexican students. Half the class is migrant.”
Oscar Ramos on becoming a Teacher:
I was in the 4th grade when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. The students see me as their teacher, but my life could have ended up very differently. I was born in Mexico. My parents came here from Mexico, to give us a better opportunity.
Oscar grew up in the labor camps, working in the fields from a very young age, 7 or 8 years old. He worked in the garlic fields, onion fields, and chile fields.
I remember my mother’s hands, and my father’s hands but, mostly, my hands. Black finger nails cut up, bruised, bumpy and rough.
In the inspiring film, East of Salinas filmmakers Laura Pacheco and Jackie Mow introduce us to the challenging lives of migrant families picking lettuce for all of us in the Salinas Valley. The poignant story follows the lives of Jose Ansaldo, a bright 8 year old student and son of migrant workers, and Oscar Ramos, Jose’s teacher, mentor, and friend.
Laura Pacheco was inspired to film the story after reading an article in the New York Times discussing the difficulties of educating migrant youth in America’s remote fields. Laura contacted Oscar Ramos who teaches migrant students at Sherwood Elementary in Salinas and through him, she met young Jose, and his family.
The story highlights the effect of current immigration legislation on young children and their hard working families.
Jose’s mother works ten hour shifts picking lettuce. Because she is undocumented, she cannot access health care. She suffers from asthma made worse by the pesticides she inhales every day as she works to provide for her family, and for us.
Every day I wake up at 3 a.m. Sometimes I sleep only 4 or five hours. Sometimes I don’t even want to wake up. Then, I remember all of the bills I have to pay, and I get up. I leave the kids with the babysitter and then I take the bus to go to work. We work 10 to 12 hours a day. My work is very hard. Cut lettuce all day and withstand the heat of the sun. I was 13 when I came to the U.S. I didn’t know it would be so hard. I have three children, and of the three, Jose is the only one that was born in Mexico.
He doesn’t know there will be problems. For Jose, every day is a good day. He is a good son and he loves school. But if the law doesn’t change, he won’t be able to study after high school.
Work and Health Problems:
I have asthma. It affects my work a lot. I can’t breath sometimes. I think my problem started with the stuff they spray in the fields. Makes it harder to breathe. What worries me the most is that if I get sick I won’t be able to work. I have Medicaid for Jaime and Daniel, but not for Jose or for myself. It’s good that Jose is never sick.
When step-dad, Jaime is Gone:
No work until April, even if I want it. Yes it’s very hard when Jaime is gone because it’s double the bills. Rent there, and rent here. Plus bills and food in both places. They had cut off my electricity. I rented a room and with that money I paid the electric bill.
A devoted teacher-a very special student
Mr. Ramos on Jose:
“Jose is a fantastic kid. He is extremely smart. Very Happy Student. He is always smiling and jumping around. He is one of those students who is eager to learn about everthing. Jose reminds me a lot of me growing up. We both love school. And even at such a young age, we were already thinking about the future.
The students in my class are only 8 or 9 years old. They don’t understand that if they are not U.S. Citizens they might get kicked out of the country. They do fear their parents getting deported because it’s in the news, and they’ve heard of some cases. But I think it’s more fear for their parents than themselves.”
Jose Ansaldo in his Mom’s Workplace
Mr. Ramos on picking up Jose and his brother to take them to school.
Jose’s family is constantly on the move to help pay the rent. The parents agreed to let him pick them up so they could finish the school year in his class with their friends.
“Jose, this is his 5th school he’s attended already. He came in the middle of the year. There is an adjustment period when a student has a new teacher, and when you have to do it 2 or 3 times in one year, well, that just sets you back a bit. We have to be very creative in the way we help these kids catch up. They can contribute great many things to this country, they just need to be given the opportunity.”
Jaime, Jose’s Step dad:
“When there is no more work here, I move to Yuma, Arizona. It’s a 12 hour drive from Yuma to Salinas. Minimum 200 dollars food and gas. That’s why it’s very difficult for me to come home. It’s far. Yuma, Arizona is on the frontier… Many patrol agents and migration checkpoints. There’s more work. But people don’t go there because they are afraid. As a father the most difficult thing for me is to leave them alone. I have to be separated from my family for 5 months. If something happens to them, to get to Salinas is 12 hours. The hardest part is closing the door behind me.”
Being migrant means that their parents follow the agricultural season. They have to constantly move following the harvest. Regardless of whether the whole family leaves, one parent, or both, it still affects the children, stresses Oscar Ramos.
Mr. Ramos on Parent Conference with Migrant Parents Who Want the Best for their Children
“Parents want to know, what can I do to help my child. Simply sit next to them. Have them read to you, and you listen to them. Ask them questions. Open their backpacks. Look for their homework. Talk to your child. We have to all work together so they can get ahead. Alone is much more difficult.”
Jose Ansaldo, 8 year old student, child of Migrant Workers in Salinas, California
“I’m 8 years old. I like to play and run, and study, too. I like to add and subtract and multiply and divide. When I grow up, I’ll be a fire-fighter or a cop.
When I wake up in the morning it’s 4 o’clock. I brush my teeth and my mom drops me off with the babysitter so she can go to work. The babysitter wakes me up at 6 o’clock.”
“I have to do my homework alone, because my mom and Jaime speak Spanish, not English. But I learn more when I try by myself. It’s important to me to work really hard, because if you don’t do good in school you are going to flunk your grade and then you don’t go to the next grade, or field trips or swimming.”
“It’s kind of hard getting food since Jaime is gone (to Yuma). Sometimes, we don’t have nothing to eat. We don’t have any food for my mom to make. So we have to sleep without eating. Until the morning, till we go to school. Sometimes if you don’t eat for a while, your stomach starts to hurt and starts growling.”
On being home alone:
“My mom and my dad work really hard so me and my brother have to stay home by ourselves. I would like to go outside and play. But, my mom says that I can’t go alone.”
Salinas is tough, tells Oscar Ramos, “way too dangerous outside. Parents worry about kids getting shot or gang activity.”
What does the immigration law mean in the life of an 8 year old who wants to study math?
Jose wants to be an engineer when he grows up, but as the filmmakers point out, “not everyone shares those dreams.”
Mr. Ramos and the Community:
“13 years ago a bunch of my friends who graduated from Berkeley, we got together and started donating money to start helping out less fortunate families; bring them a little joy during Christmas.” Today, these friends work in education, law, the medical field and are business owners. Together, they distribute Christmas gifts throughout the community.
We all do something different but we all grew up working the fields. We knew how hard it was so we all focused on doing well in school. We must not forget where we came from.
To Watch the Full Film, East of Salinas, click here.
East of Salinas was produced and directed by: Laura Pacheco and Jackie Mow; edited by Rachel Clark; music by Joseph Julian Gonzalez. Additional Cinematography: Samantha Grant, Vicente Franco, Jason Blalock Sound Recordists: Laura Pacheco, Ray Day, Todd Dayton, Phil Turner, Mario Furioni Additional Editing: Jessie Beers-Altman Executive Producer for ITVS: Sally Jo Fifer Executive Producer for LPB: Sandie Viquez Pedlow
Laura Pacheco is a filmmaker and anthropologist who loves to tell stories about spirited heroes rising against all odds. East of Salinas, premiered s on PBS Monday, December 28, 2015. Check your local listings to view the touching film and to meet Jose, the bright, undocumented son of migrant farm workers and his guardian angel- dedicated teacher Oscar, once a migrant kid himself.
Jackie Mow (Producer/Director) is passionate about science and education,and makes films with a great diversity of subjects.
Construction workers march carrying empty caskets.
“No one should have to sacrifice their life for their livelihood,
because a nation built on the dignity of work must provide safe working conditions for its people.”
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.
At a labor rally last week, thousands marched in New York City is solidarity with construction workers, many of whom are immigrants and die every day in construction-related accidents.
According to Lucia Gomez, labor rights expert, contractors pick up undocumented workers from the streets, looking to save money and finish fast. The workers don’t have the necessary equipment or safety training, but what they do have is an urgent need to work.
“They shouldn’t sacrifice their lives for an employee who does not care about their lives,” told Gomez to Noticiero Telemundo, on December 10th, 2015.
The black caskets symbolize the undocumented workers who died while working in construction without labor union protection.
Those marching in the labor rally stood in solidarity to bring an end to workplace abuses.
According to OSHA (Occupational Health Administration)’s report last year’s construction-related deaths came from the following accidents:
Hit by objects: 73
Crushed to death: 12
In her interview with labor union representatives in New York, Isolde Pegero reported that these deaths are preventable and happen because contractors do not follow safety guidelines.
Stronger penalties are needed as well as more inspectors. Pegero argues that the current number of inspectors, “cannot keep up with the growing number of construction projects in New York.”
Those who marched carrying black coffins where construction workers across race, class and legal status. Together, they demand more security in their jobs, especially for undocumented workers who risk their lives every day without any type of protection for themselves or their families.
“Enough is enough!” yelled Councilman Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat at the Manhattan rally. “There has been enough inaction! There has been enough cutting corners! There has been enough death. The workers who have no voice are exploited every day. They are paid low wages! They have no health care! They have no retirement security! They have no training!”
Manhattan Borough President, Gale Brewer, emphasized the need for increasing protective regulations. “We have to raise safety standards and put in place measures that will ensure every worker on any sized building has safety equipment, proper training and proper quality supervision.”
Protecting Immigrant Workers
Cristina Tzintzun, reporting on the status of construction workers in Texas states that Texas is the state with the second largest population of undocumented people in the country, home to approximately 1.7 million undocumented immigrants. Although they make up 6.3 percent of the state’s overall population, they account for 9 percent of the labor force and according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, pay $1.6 billion annually in state and local taxes.
Tzintzun states that despite their contributions to the Texas economy, undocumented workers in construction earn less than 2 percent of all employee compensation and are victims of wage theft abuses.
In Texas: Crisis in Construction and Employee Safety & Abuses
Failure to be paid:
More than one in five workers (22 percent) have suffered wage theft, and were denied payment for completed work.
In her report, Tzintzun states that undocumented construction workers:
Earn $3.12 less an hour
Are 18 percent less likely to receive rest breaks on work sites, leading to higher rates of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Are 2.5 times more likely to experience wage theft.
Most employers do not provide bilingual safety instructions. Most undocumented immigrants, are twice as likely to be injured on the job.
These conditions have dramatic impacts on working families.
Unfortunately, the construction industry is one of the least regulated in the state reports Tzintzun . Unlike other states, Texas lacks basic protections for its construction workforce, and:
Is the only state in the country that does not require workers’ compensation coverage or an alternative.
Has no statewide law mandating rest breaks for construction workers.
Has no program to ensure that private employers properly classify their employees.
The industry has created one of the deadliest and most unregulated construction markets in the country. As a result, both documented and undocumented workers face poverty-level wages, dangerous working conditions, and payroll fraud.
Fear of Retaliation:
The Workers Defense Project, a group that advocates fair employment for low-income workers published a report based on a survey of 1,194 Texas construction workers. Half of the surveyed workers reported being undocumented, which the report claims makes them more likely than U.S.-born workers to be injured or die on the job.
According to the report, more than 70 percent of the undocumented workers had not received safety training and were twice as likely to face threats from their employer for reporting unsafe workplace conditions.
Young, Hispanic construction workers at higher risk-reporting from Washington
Hispanic immigrants who work for small construction firms are among the most at risk of being injured on the job, according to NIOSH and the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Small employers are more likely to hire young workers, who are at a greater risk of injury and who may fear deportation for reporting unsafe conditions.
Following the National Action Summit for Latino Worker Health and Safety in 2010, OSHA has implemented a robust outreach strategy to collaborate with community- and faith-based organizations, unions, employers, and many other nonprofit organizations at the local, regional, and national levels. Since the summit, we have reached out to hundreds of organizations, conducted numerous educational programs and summits, and provided extensive compliance assistance to vulnerable worker populations. The goal of this outreach is to enhance workers’ knowledge of their workplace rights and improve their ability to exercise those rights. For information on other events in your area, contact your OSHA Diverse Workforce/Limited English Proficiency Coordinator or OSHA Compliance Assistance Specialist.
You have the right to a safe workplace. We will keep your information confidential. We are here to help you.
Remembering fallen construction workers in Austin. Photo by Susan Van Haitsma /The Rag Blog.
I visit undocumented mothers in detention. During my conversations with them-One constant worry is shared, the welfare of their children while they are detained. It is difficult to parent children from jail. Incarceration makes it nearly impossible, and the charge to make a phone call to check on the family, makes it just about prohibitive.
Our lives are busy, but when given the opportunity, people love to extend support to those in need.
Business managers can make this happen.
With a little organization, managers can lead and set the tone for community engagement. In the process, corporate giving has the added benefit of promoting employee leadership, boosting team spirit and increasing morale.
Companies that give, are recipients of positive marketing opportunities. As an added bonus, the public likes to support businesses that are charitable.