Hope Star from Hope, Arkansas on October 22, 1974 · Page 9
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Hope Star from Hope, Arkansas · Page 9

Hope, Arkansas
Issue Date:
Tuesday, October 22, 1974
Page 9
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esday, October 22r 1974 ) STAR Page Nine rant Labor »,*«r •: is one-of-a-kind By ROGER MEAD Star Feature Writer Hope, Arkansas is a town known for the giant watermelons that grow in the area. But Hope has Uother unique aspect that makes it a one of-a-kind y. The Migrant Farm Labor Information Center located on the outskirts of Hope is the only 24-hour 3t stop in the nation that offers complete and Supervised service to migrant workers. I Begun in 1956 or 1957, the Center began under the Iniative of the United States Department of Labor |n Washington, D.C. Starting from a sole building lat housed showers and restrooms, office space, a oiler room and stall space for about six or seven impers, the Center has grown to 20 cabins which .n sleep 160 persons, two eating areas, showers and restrooms, an information center dispensing crop and labor information to those needing to now and several offices. In a recent interview, Teddy Jones, area anager of the Employment Security Division f(ESD) in Hope, briefly outlined the history of the Center. "The Center was started about 1956 or 1957, nd it was established on the original site of (property on which it is located now," he said. I "The property was leased from the city of Hope land that land still belongs to the city of Hope. We (executed a 99-year lease with a rental fee of $50 a [month," Jones explained. While Jones is manager of the Hope office of the SD, Richard D. Ramsey is supervisor of the (Center. Ramsey has been at the ESD for six years Hollowing time in other jobs with the Division. He lhas spent fifteen years in Mexico and countries in [Central America and speaks the migrant's language fluently. I The Farm Labor Center was established at Hope after the United States Department of Labor decided to fund such a venture through a state agency. After a study was made concerning water and sewer facilities, fire and police protection and location, the present site was chosen. The city of Hope lies about half way between the Rio Grande Valley and the northern states to which the migrants travel. In 1973, the Center operated on a budget of $75,000 and served about 50,000 travelers who registered. This works out to a cost of approximately $1.50 per visitor. The Center charges $2 a night for a cabin that sleeps eight to help offset expenses. According to both Jones and Ramsey, at no time in the history of the Center's presence at Hope has there ever been a migrant involved with the law in any way. "There has never been any need for the r ' .,»-.!t t Wt ^Wfer, Cabins serve about 50,000 travelers a year. —Hope (Ark.) Star photo city, county or state authorities to come out here and quell any kind of disturbance," Jones said. "Sometimes, the Border Patrol will come here, but only in search of "wetbacks," (aliens who enter the U.S. illegally)." several misconceptions surround the migrants. Other Americans tend to think of the migrant as a Mexican who has crossed the border looking for work. These people are native-born Americans. While most all speak Spanish, there are many who are fluent in English. Many adults speak only Spanish while their children may be bi-lingual. "I say this and I don't mean it critically, because I am speaking objectively, that those people, as a whole, conduct themselves in a more reliable and dependable way than a lot of white families that we have right here in Hope. And some black families, too," Jones stated. "These people have money to pay their expenses to the job in which they are going to work. And before, they leave Texas, they have it. Unless some emergency or the like hits them," he added. Both Jones and Ramsey described the travelers as strong family-types. "They will make these long trips and there will be a grandmother and grandfather, sons and daughters, and cousins along with the parents," Ramsey commented. "They are a proud and dignified people. They don't like to accept charity. And they don't, when you consider they pay for the sleeping facilities." Ramsey made the point that the migrants are not able to use such things as federal parks because of their lifestyle. Things that many other Americans take for granted. "I would hate to vote against funding this program if I were in the position to vote on it," Ramsey said. According to the Texas Migrant Labor 1973 Annual Report, a migrant is defined as "a person who earns his principal income from temporary farm jobs, and in the course of his pursuit for work moves more than one time." . During the year, the migrant will travel to certain areas across the country to harvest crops such as tomatoes, cherries, cucumbers, apples, potatoes and other crops. A migrant might work in California, and later in the year, work in Michigan. The flow of migrant labor follows patterns of travel. It is the north-bound flow of migrant labor that passes by Hope in their 1,000 mile-plus drive to work. Coming from the Rio Grande Valley in a northeastern direction, the migrants come up Interstate 30 North which provides them with a swift route through Arkansas. Since 1965, the Center registered 391,610 visitors. Last year, the Center had approximately 47,000 visitors, according to the Texas report. The report goes on to say that the Hope locations is the only 24-hour supervised restatop on the northern flow. Jones of the ESD said that it was the only type in the nation. The report stated that other states had tried the project but ended them after only a few seasons. Reasons given for shutdowns were uncertain client load, costly operation due to vandalism and abuse to the facility and "it's really not our problem." The report did not indicate whether or not the migrants were responsible for all abuse of facilities and vandalism. Despite the growing use of machines in farm work, the migrant is still a wanted man. He is needed to pick those fruits and vegetables that are too tender for machines or to handle those jobs for which machine labor is not practical. It is through the migrant's labor that many fresh fruits and vegetables along with some canned goods make their way to the grocery market. Without them doing it, there would be far less than there is now. And now there are movements in some parts of the country to unite the migrants in organized labor unions, the most notable being that of Caesar Chavez in California. When one considers their value, despite the low pay they receive, the $1.50 spent by the Federal government to provide the 50,000 workers who visit the Center with a small reststop appears to be a good investment. The Guti^rrz family* jEfoey are Americans jl •/ • -I •/ \ Left to right, Socorro, Lydia, Rumalda, Juan, Miguel, Daniel and standing, Jose Angel The Juan Gutierrz family is just another American family. They have a home in Donna, Texas, and when Gutierrz goes to work, he drives. The differences between his driving and that of a Hope resident driving to work is that he will take his family with him and they will travel 1600 miles to their jobs. Juan Gutierrz and his family are migrant workers. They will leave their home in the Rio Grande Valley in early Spring and travel to Michigan, Wisconsin and other northern states to work in the fields. They will work harvesting cherries, tomatoes, pickles (their word for cucumbers), apples, potatoes and other crops. For their labor, they will be payed either an hourly wage or receive a pay based on what they pick. The hourly wage is usually $1.60. The other might be 25 cents for a hamper of tomatoes. Whether they are traveling north or going southward, the Gutierrz family always stops off at the Migrant Farm Labor Information Center located on the outskirts of Hope on Highway 67 North. Their last visit was Tuesday as they were making the long journey back to their home in Donna which is located about 45 miles from Brownsville, Texas. This made the twelth time that they had stopped at the Center. They have been stopping at the Center for the last six years. On this visit, they took time for a short interview with a reporter. With Gutierrz's daughter, Lydia, acting as spokesperson for the family, she gave a few insights as to the life they lead as members of the migrant labor force. The interview began with an introduction of family members. Making the trip this year in addition to Lydia and her father, were Gutierrz's wife, Rumalda, and their three sons, Miguel, Daniel and Jose Angel. Accompanying the family was Socorro Gonzales, Gutierrz's niece. Socorro's father and mother live in Mexico. An important part of their life style is the pick-up equipped with a camper shell which they own. For this vehicle is their sole means of transportation and without it, Gutierrz and his family would be forced to stay at home where work is scarce except during certain months when crops are being harvested. Since Gutierrz speaks only Spanish, Lydia, 23, served as intreperter for the questions directed to her father. Asked how long he had been a migrant, Gutierrz replied that he had been traveling the country for 14 years. Gutierrz indicated that he had no skill such as carpentry or masonry. Concerning their work week Lydia said, "We will usually work all day six days, and will have Sunday off. We will rest up on Sundays. At home, we will work harvesting grapefruits and tomatoes, and sometime we will work on Sundays too." According to Lydia, what little time they have off is spent resting. While their truck is vital, gasoline is just as important. The high price of gasoline in these times requires a larger portion of their earnings. During last year's gasoline shortage, the family was still able to make it to the north despite the lack of gasoline. "We go north every year, and we did last year. We were able to get gasoline but it was expensive," Lydia said. Lydia speaks the English language fluently and her brother, Miguel, speaks English also but not as well. Miguel, who is 19, has attended one semester of college at Pan American University in Edinborough, Texas. He is studying physical education and hopes to be a coach. The other sons of Gutierrz, Daniel and Jose Angel, had little to say and remained apart from the discussion. Their aloofness vanished when the reporter brought out the camera and the taking began. Mrs. Gutierrz sat at her husband's side answering questions with her rapid-fire Spanish. Her face with its deep tan carried a continuous smile. Socorro, the cousin who is 12, sat silent throughout the interview forcing an occasional smile. Never overcoming her shyness. Asked how they liked the Center at Hope, Lydia replied that they liked stopping here for the rest. But when they went north, they were troubled by colds. As to whether or not they would ever like to settle in the area, the answer was a quick no. "We like it much better in Texas because its home," Lydia replied. The Gutierrz family is like most other migrant families. That is they have only one way to earn their living. Harvesting crops. And next year the Gutierrz family will again travel north to work. And the year after that. And the next year. And the next. . . ROGER HEAD

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