Rolando R.


As Interviewed by Pilar R., March 16, 2012

Rolando R.: In His Own Words

I was born in Mercedes, Texas, lived a year in Sebastian, Texas, my first year. And after that I was raised in Harlingen, Texas for the next seventeen years, until I was eighteen years old and I graduated from high school. We lived in a three bedroom house and the kitchen and living room was very small, probably a 1000 square foot house. In that house lived my parents and six other siblings, so all together we had nine people living in one house. We had one restroom, one shower, so in the mornings it was pretty hectic when we were trying to go to school. My dad was an auto body repairman at the time and my mom was a live in wife. Well, growing up, we were at the time, I didnít realize how poor we were, but I guess we were poor. My dad worked every day, pretty much, Saturdays and Sundays also. A lot of stuff we used to do was play football, baseball. So my childhood, even though we were poor we did have a lot of fun.

During the school year, like I said, I spent a lot of time off just playing around the neighborhood, but, come summer, were the times that I dreaded because during the summer, in order to be able to pay off the house, my dad would take the whole family to Ohio, Michigan early on, to work in the fields. Right about a week after school would end, we would take off.

And we would work in the fields from five oí clock in the morning pretty much before the sun came up and Iíd be working the weeds until almost sundown. Early on we would work on the fields by clearing out all the fields using hoes, and after that we would pick pickles all day long, and from pickles we would pick tomatoes. So we worked pretty much from June to late September, early October.

So, at the beginning of the school year we would still be in Ohio, and I would spend from two weeks to a month in Ohio School Districts. Actually, I enjoyed it a lot because it would take me away from the fields, from working out there.

Going back to the fields, when we used to go, that I can remember early on when we used to a city called Freemont, Ohio when I was little. They were all farms that we went to, and we used to live in small little shacks made out of wooden shacks pretty much like a shed where you would have your main room, maybe one or two bedrooms and the kitchen and the main room were all together, probably about a 500 square foot little shack that we stayed in. Conditions werenít very good, once again they werenít insulated nor conditioned, no heaters.

As far as restrooms, it was a community type restroom. They were outhouses. We used to go outside to use the restroom. They were just wooden restrooms with a big hole in the ground. And showers were the same thing, community showers. People would take turns showering, family units at a time.

We would go work early in the morning, and the only thing that would stop us from going to go work was thunderstorms. If it was raining a little bit, we would still work, cold, hot, we would be working all day long.

As far as eating conditions, my mom would make food early in the morning, and then pack it up. When we were working in the fields, we would work then find a shady spot and eat. Then, at the end of the day, we would pack everything up and make sure we didnít leave anything and we would take off.

The people that we met were pretty much people from different areas. A lot of them that we ran into were from south Texas, Florida, and a bunch of other southern states. I guess you could consider that we were part-time migrants. Because we would only go down during the summer but a lot of people that we met were people that actually migrated through the year depending on which crops were in season. There were people that would go to Texas, Florida, up to Washington, Oregon areas.

Some of these people were actually illegal aliens that would come in from Mťxico. At the time, we didnít have a lot of people coming in from Southern America, mostly Mexico. And these people from Mexico were brought in by individuals called coyotes, coyotes (Spanish), people would bring them in illegally and the sad part is every time they got paid, they would come visit them at payday and collect money from them every time. And they were not able to finally pay off what the person charged them so they just kept charging, and charging for bringing them to the United States. So, they were stealing their money.

The more baskets we filled with the proper size, and proper ripe pickles and tomatoes, thatís how we got paid, cents per basket. We were actually making less than minimum wage back in I guess the early 70s through mid 70s.

So, that was my experience all the way until I was about ten or eleven years old when we finally, I guess as a family, we decided that we werenít going to go anymore. It was just putting too much stress on the family, so I believe we ended up not going anymore due to that reason.

Weíd start school in places we were at. I enjoyed the school over there because it kept me away from the fields. And at the same time they were good schools. I remember doing well.

Every time we went to Ohio the same people go there so, the same illegal aliens would go there. I hate calling them that but thatís what theyíre called. The same coyotes would bring them over and somehow, someway, they were representing the United Farm Workers of America. Being that we were part time migrants, we did not join that union. They called for going on strike. We were poor; my dad was there for a purpose, to make money to pay off the house. I do remember them going to the fields and bugging us and other people that were working.

Well in the later years, about two to three years before we actually stop going, we would start hearing, when we went to go out there. There were some gentlemen that were involved in that union [The United Farm Workers of America], that were apparently making, I call it noise, but striking and not working in the fields, for the low pay they were making. Being provided for the job that we did.

One year, I donít know if it was the last year that we went, or the year before we actually stopped going. Being there were, at farm that we were at, we didnít have phones. And my brother was in high school, he was the president of the high school band. So he actually left right before school started, so he could be there during band practice, in the summer. So we ended up going downtown to the town that we were at, Leipsic, Ohio. And call from a phone booth, to call him, and talk to him, my parents would do that. One day we were out there and, it was in the evening, after we worked the fields. My dad had called my brother, when he was on the phone, when these three gentlemen, that I had previously seen out in the field. I could say at the time, yeah I didnít know at the time, but I guess looking back, had been harassing my family out in the fields. My dad had already had encounters with them. But that afternoon, early evening, they actually got in to an argument with my dad, in regards to keeping us from working in the fields. So it was another thing that these gentlemen were doing, they were actually bringing undocumented migrant workers to the area, charging them a certain amount of pay. And once they were paid, instead of letting them go, they were actually making them pay more of what they actually charged them initially. So it was like an ongoing thing. My dad allowed some of those people that they brought in to work in our field. My dad was pretty much the field manager for that particular farm. And those gentlemen didnít like the fact that my dad told those undocumented workers not to pay them anymore, because they already paid them enough for bringing them over into the United States. So anyways, that night, they got into that argument, and it got physical, and my dad was afraid for our family. So, thinking that the gentleman might have had a gun in his car, cause the gentleman ran towards his car after I grabbed my dad, my dad ran over to our car and got a wooden stick that he used to use to check the tire pressure on the tractors and stuff. And ended up assaulting the gentleman. And later on the police arrived and took care of the situation, and actually let my dad go because he was defending himself, and ended up arresting those gentlemen.

So, after that incident, I didnít grow up admiring Cesar Chavez for that reason alone. I know he meant for a good cause but those men represented him and he had no meaning to me. Itís sad, but true, Cesar Chavez had no meaning to me at all. His idea was well meant, but it was not well implemented by the people that worked under him.

Going back home, school had already started for over a month, and it was a different curriculum back in Ohio, so when I got back home I would try to catch up what I missed in Harlingen. Being that I missed certain classes early on, in elementary, I was actually placed in Special Ed. I remember being in the classroom all by myself with a tutor and feeling pretty much stupid because I was branded as Special Ed.

At school, they had a program for migrant workers. After school, I would have to spend one hour to two hours working with a tutor every day. It was mandatory whether we needed it or not. So, going into high school, being branded a migrant student. I still had to go to the after school program even though I wasnít a migrant worker anymore.

Being a migrant worker has made me more of a democrat because I believe that we as a government should help our citizens, legal or illegal, because we are all helping our families and the government directly or indirectly. The incident with the union members pulled me away from politics, but I still believe that the government should help our people.