music in the park san jose

Pedro Velasquez hasn’t seen his kids in four years and it’s not
by choice. He simply would have been a bad father if he would have
stayed in Acapulco, the resort town on the West coast of Mexico,
and watched his family struggle to survive, he said. Instead like
millions before him, Velasquez chose to cross the border to seek
work in the famed El Norte, as the U.S. is known among Mexican
immigrants.
Hollister – Pedro Velasquez hasn’t seen his kids in four years and it’s not by choice. He simply would have been a bad father if he would have stayed in Acapulco, the resort town on the West coast of Mexico, and watched his family struggle to survive, he said. Instead like millions before him, Velasquez chose to cross the border to seek work in the famed El Norte, as the U.S. is known among Mexican immigrants.

Today Velasquez is one of dozens of men who gather near True Hardware, on Fourth Street, to wait for jobs from contractors and other people seeking cheap labor. The jobs are scarce and Velasquez never knows when he gets up each morning whether he will get work that day. But he remains hopeful and everyday makes sure he is waiting at the spot by 8am.

“What else can I do?” he says. “If we don’t go out to look for work, nothing will come to us.”

These are men caught between two worlds, vagabonds in search of fortune in a new land called California. They work our fields, wash our dishes and build our homes, but they also exist in the shadows, hidden from view of the average American. Most come from small towns in rural Mexico devastated by failed harvests and agriculture-oriented economies that offer neither stability nor a future for the families.

During the planting and harvest season, Velasquez works on local farms, planting onions, lettuce and other row crops. But when work is slow during the winter, he heads to the spot on Fourth Street in hopes of snagging a job clearing someone’s yard or lifting crates at a local business.

Mexican men, usually 30 to 40 years old and without any legal status in the U.S., have been meeting at the location for six years, said Jose Sosa, who has been in the U.S. since 1982, but is originally from Michoacan, Mexico. However, the dozen or so day laborers who wait at the spot are significantly less than in previous years, he said.

“There has been less work in recent years,” said Sosa, adding that he has a regular job and only comes there to socialize. “Many of the contractors are going to Gilroy to get workers.”

When someone stops by to find workers, the men usually run to the truck and the first one in, gets the job. Other times, the employer-to-be gets out of the car and discusses with the workers what he needs, relying on someone like Sosa, who understands English and knows numerous phrases, to help communicate. The men then decide among themselves who will work, depending on who has already had jobs that week.

“We don’t fight and we don’t argue,” he said. “We get along.”

On a recent day, Velasquez, Sosa and about half a dozen others lingered under a wooden awning in the parking lot, talking and yawning while some play scratch lottery tickets. At about 9:30am, a white Suburban pulled up and a man approached the group. He needed two workers, he said, using his hands to indicate that lifting will be a part of the job. Within minutes, Velasquez and another man were in the back, and the suburban sped off.

Hiring the men, of course, is illegal because most don’t have any documents allowing them to work in the U.S. However, they are regularly employed on farms, in homes and factories because of only one thing: They work long hours for cheaper than anybody else.

“There are few people who are willing or able to do what these people do for the amount of money that they get,” said Jim Hernandez, a local labor contractor who hires workers like Velasquez and Sosa to work on local farms.

Without them, farmers would have to pay significantly more to attract temporary employees – a cost that would eventually be passed down to consumers, he said.

Today, illegal workers get about $7 to $8 an hour, although they can get up to $10 when working for large corporate farms.

The workers rely on the honesty of the people who hire them and so far, there haven’t been any problems, said Sosa. But if there was an unscrupulous employer, he wouldn’t hesitate in calling a legal aid office, he said.

Others aren’t as familiar with complaint procedures, but look to long-timers like Sosa for advice, which he gives willingly. Among his words of working wisdom are never accepting the first wage offered by an employer and writing down the license plate number, in case problems come up and workers need to complain.

But for the most part, the men are just happy to get a day’s work because it means money that they can send back home. Velasquez misses his family and can’t wait until the day he returns home. But he also realizes it might be a while before he sets his eyes on the salty air and palm-lined streets of Acapulco because there is more he can do for his family in the U.S.

“There is a crisis going on over there,” he says, adding that he might continue further north in search of work. His oldest son is attending university in Acapulco, which he wouldn’t be able to afford without the steady checks from Velasquez. “I miss them a lot, but they depend on me. This is where I can help them.”

Karina Ioffee covers education and agriculture for the Free Lance. Reach her at (831)637-5566 ext. 335 or [email protected]

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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