Closure of Migrant Camps Forces Seasonal Workers to Make Tough Choice

Rowan Moore Gerety, California Report, December 27, 2013

The fields around Watsonville produce more than half a billion dollars in berries every year. After the raspberry vines have been cut back for winter and the strawberry fields plowed under, some farmworkers head back to Mexico for a few months. At the state-run Buena Vista Migrant Center, the end of the growing season means it’s time for 104 families to move out, including those who don’t want to travel south of the border. {snip}

{snip} Buena Vista is one of 24 state-run camps around California, built in the 1970s to improve living conditions for migrant workers. For farmworkers living on wages of about $350 a week, it’s a pretty good deal: rent is less than $400 a month, and the camp offers free daycare. But there’s a catch: to live there, you have to move at least 50 miles away during the winter.

Rogelio Fernandez, who is headed to Michoacán for the winter, has been coming to California to pick strawberries for 38 years. He followed in the footsteps of the men in his family. “My grandfather was a bracero, my father was a bracero,” he said.

During the winter, tenants have to leave their tan, concrete duplexes clean and empty, the same way they got them. Fernandez prepares the garden by cutting down the last of the tall corn stalks that border his house. {snip}


According to Ann Lopez, director of the non-profit Center for Farmworker Families, “We’ve always been a state that welcomes people when we need their labor, but then once the season is over, we don’t need their labor, we want ‘em outta here.”

She said there’s no doubt that people in Buena Vista have it better than farmworkers who don’t live in subsidized housing. “But there’s a tremendously high cost: they don’t have a permanent home and they can’t stay where they want to be.”

Lopez is working to repeal the state regulation that keeps the migrant camps closed during the winter. That, she says, would help more students follow the path of Cristian’s older sister, Yasmin: she’s a junior studying psychology at Cal State Sacramento.

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