When I went to visit the Arturo Ochoa Migrant Center in Gilroy
for the first time, I have to admit I felt a certain amount of
trepidation. I had heard horror stories about living conditions at
other migrant camps.
When I went to visit the Arturo Ochoa Migrant Center in Gilroy for the first time, I have to admit I felt a certain amount of trepidation. I had heard horror stories about living conditions at other migrant camps. However, my world rarely intersects with that of the migrant’s, except when I buy artichokes or strawberries at the grocery store.
My translator, Lilieth Armenta, met me at Ochoa and did a great job of helping me communicate with a woman named Maria Galindo. I met Maria in the very well-kept kitchen of her tidy home at Ochoa, which is located on the southeast edge of town, off of Russo Lane on Southside Road. Maria and her family live six months of the year at Ochoa and six months in Arizona, as they follow the seasonal work in the fields.
I was surprised to learn that each year the same families return to Ochoa and stay in the same living units whenever possible. Maria knows all of her neighbors and has lived near them six months out of the year for many years.
Maria turned out to be bright, proactive, and full of energy as she enthusiastically began telling me how much her recent progress in learning English has meant to her. It all began when Maria’s 8-year-old daughter challenged her.
“Why aren’t you going to school?” Noelly asked her mom when Maria was unable to help with homework. So last year Maria signed up for ESL (English as a Second Language) Classes.
St. Joseph’s Family Center has collaborated with FIRST 5 to start a technology program that allows children and adults from homeless and migrant families to increase their level of education and life skills. Maria attends classes in ESL, family literacy, and computer/Internet skills training.
These days Maria feels a new self-respect at being able to answer when her 5-year-old son Noe hears someone speaking in English and asks her, “Mom, what did they say?” Noe himself is picking up English more quickly now that he sees how much his mom wants to learn.
“He will be watching cartoons and say to me, ‘Mom, what was that word they said?’ Then when I answer, he laughs and says, ‘Just testing you!’ ”
“It’s never too late to learn,” Maria now challenges others. “To read a book to my children, I have to read it twice,” she says. “I read a book once to myself to practice, and then the second time I can read it to them. I always have my dictionary ready.”
When it came time to follow the crops to Yuma, Ariz., for the current winter lettuce season, she signed up for classes there too.
“After taking classes through St. Joseph’s, I’m not as scared anymore. I took a test and only got one wrong,” she told me with a big smile.
“Changing schools each year is hard,” she admitted, “But keeping the family together is what’s important.”
As I sat talking with Maria in the small home her family of five occupies during the months of picking broccoli in the Gilroy fields, I realized she had changed the stereotypical image of migrant workers I had carried with me for so long. She shook her head, laughed, and reminded me of a lesson I once knew but had since forgotten.
“You have to look at what’s bonito” she said, straightening her ponytail as she searched for the right word. “You have to look for what’s good wherever you are.”