Photo by Jim Seymour April 9, 1971 11 The migrant experience By Rene Guevara Austin I am on the road on my way to work in the fields of Michigan where I will pull beets from the ground and pick cherries from ten-foot-high trees. Four other families, all kinfolk, my parents, my two brothers and myself together make up 21 laborers waiting in a moving 6’x15’x22′ box that is part of a five-year-old truck with faded away paint and rusty metal parts and with a greyish canvass roof tied to the sides with rope. About one-fifth of the area arranged in the front part of the box consists of the basic material necessities such as clothes, frying pans, steel silverware, kerosene stoves and lamps, blankets, hoes, two radios and a few firearms. With three people sitting in the .driving compartment, the rest of the area is taken up by 18 well-crowded people. Some people are sitting on mattresses and some are sitting on blankets. Most have bundled-up blankets nearby which will be used when the cool night comes. Half of the grownups are asleep, while we, the younger ones, play or discuss what we will do in , Mich. I learn throughout the journey that each day around noon we stop alongside the highway for three hours and then around 9 p.m. we stop for the night, usually in a park. After each stop, most go into the woods or bushes to use the rest room. Unless it is too cool, most of us sleep under the truck, otherwise we all sleep inside, snuggled together and quite warm, although a bit stuffy. T IS 1952 and I am seven years old and I think I am on the greatest trip ever. My cousins and younger brother, who has lived with my grandparents on my mother’s side since he was two, have always told me about all the things they do up North, like gathering and eating strawberries, hunting, going shopping on the weekends, attending county fairs, swimming in lakes, living where there is livestock and just visiting different towns. Just two weeks earlier I was pulled out of the second grade five weeks before. school ended for the summer in a little town named Edna, which is located in Central Texas. There was at least one restaurant that I knew about which had a sign on the door that said NO NEGROES, DOGS, MEXICANS ALLOWED in that order. Our one room living quarters were located behind my father’s barber shop and to one side there was an abandoned warehouse and to the other side there was The writer is a sophomore zoology student at The University of Texas at Austin. He wrote of his summer in the beet fields for an English class. a beer joint where I saw a man die of three bullet wounds. All of this was one building. The building must have been plenty old since many of the boards were cracked or rotten but were covered with uneven nailed pieces of tin. There were cobwebs between the walls and roof and all over the occasionally visited warehouse. I don’t remember ever going anywhere with my parents outside of walking distance, because we couldn’t afford a car until 1957 when we bought a 1949 Ford. About a block away from our quarters there was a place which sold TVs and sometimes at night I used to go watch about an hour of TV through the window. entertainment at night I listened to Spanish soap operas on the radio. The one opera I remember most was “The Shadow.” One thing about Edna, I had my first and last birthday party there when I turned seven. We arrived in , Mich., in the afternoon. The first thing I saw was an L-shaped row of eight white-washed, one-room cottages with acres of six-foot tall grass on rolling hills in the back. We waited about an hour before it was decided who would occupy which cottage. Inside each cottage was one faucet, one sink, one cot, two chairs and one ice box. In one corner, there was also a five-foot-long wooden box with each end nailed to the adjoining wall; this would be our closet. After five weeks of pulling beets and we move on to Decatur, Ind., to pick tomatoes. ILIKE DECATUR, Ind., better than Michigan because here only 15 feet away from the house is where the boss has the barn and keeps his cows at night. The barn is twice as big as the three houses occupied by five families. There are bales of hay from the second floor to the roof of the barn and on the first floor are two rows of electric milking machines. On the other side of the houses, 20 feet away, is the boss’s two-story house which is also occupied by two friendly young daughters. Across the street from the farm are the tomato fields which we will work for the next four weeks. Throughout our stay there, we played on the bales of hay until one of my cousins saw two snakes there. In early August, all of the tomatoes had been picked and we were ready to go to Oklahoma in time for the cotton picking season. As it turned out, I went to McAllen, Tex., with my aunt to start school in September because my parents would be in Oklahoma until late September. Because I don’t think they made as much money as they thought they would make, they could not rationalize taking me out of school so they were trying to make up for it by sending me ahead of them to start school. As it turned out, I could not attend public school in McAllen because my parents were not county taxpayers.
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