Sunday, July 30, 2006

Making Repairs

I spent a good part of the day working on the van we bought last week. The oil was black and there was some soot in the muffler. The former tells me that the oil hasn't been changed in a while. The latter tells me that it has had poor combustion. The van lacks oomph while tackling the hills up here. I changed the oil and replaced the spark plugs and wires. Next weekend, I will replace the distributor cap and rotor. It's better, but not running smoothly. It took forever to do because of the locations of the spark plugs. You can accurately describe it by saying that it's a bitch to change the spark plugs. This is for a '93 Ford Aerostar with a 3.0 L engine. It may be possible that it doesn't have much go because it is a 3.0 L engine rather than the 4.0 L. In any case, it was an arduous process I don't wish to repeat.
Our relatives downstairs had trouble with their more recent model Ford F-150. Some bonehead engineer made access to the spark plugs vertical on the larger engines. When you drive through water, as was necessary this morning in some flooded areas, the water pools around the spark plugs and causes misfires. That was a pain too. You engineers at UTPA who are going to work for car companies need to keep maintenance of vehicles in mind when you design them. And don't do something stupid like put spark plugs at the bottom of a vertical column where water can collect when drivers go through puddles.
It is customary for migrants to fix their own cars. It's rare to find a migrant visiting a local mechanic. The cost of professional repairs makes the whole thing too expensive for migrant wages. You'll often see migrants working on their own vehicles and, if they have friends, doing it with their friends over a few beers. You have to be self sufficient to some extent to make it.

Only a few changes

Some of the red flagged migrants who were required to provide more proof of working eligibility were unable to do it and have left for other opportunities. As far as families, only one family is known to be leaving the area. Overall, it was single men who have left, mostly. Everybody else was able to buy themselves real social security numbers to use.

Not again

This morning, at roughly 5 am, my wife woke up and noticed lightning headed our way. She woke me up and we turned on the weather radio we got yesterday to listen to the NOAA broadcast. Sure enough, there was another severe thunderstorm warning and tornado watch in effect until 6:15 am and 6 am. We got dressed and got our stuff ready. We dressed the boy and awoke the girl and her grandmother. Shortly thereafter, the siren went off. We got a call from downstairs to invite us down. I put a pot of coffee to brew so we could wait out the storm. This time around, things were a bit calmer as we saw it coming rather than waking up to the siren. We had time, prior to the siren, to check TV and listen to the radio.
Last night, our son fell asleep with his hands over his ears in anticipation of the blaring siren. This morning, while we were dressing him, he put his hands up to his ears. He was prepared when the siren actually went off. The family has been glued to The Weather Channel these past two days. This is good from the awareness standpoint. This is bad because they may worry, unnecessarily, about some of the destruction possible if we were to have a tornado. We take the threat seriously because there was a tornado in Rice Lake, two or three years ago, that tore through the city. Our relatives tell us that they were shocked to see all the downed trees and destroyed homes as they drove in. They have pictures.
Perhaps the worst thing of all is that we have missed another opportunity, this weekend, to sleep late. I'm making it a point to take a nap today. I expect that we may have more awakenings in the coming days.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Oh, Crap!

"Oh, Crap!"
That's what went through my mind this morning as I awoke to the sound of a siren that warns Rice Lake about severe thunderstorms and tornados. Around 5 AM, the siren started blaring across the street from us. It had gone off earlier this week during a tornado watch. My wife and I were not home to hear it. This morning, we were. My wife and I jumped out of bed and started getting dressed. The kids awoke on their own with all the noise. Being so close to the siren, we had to shout to hear each other through the droning sound. We still had a bag packed due to the bad weather earlier this week, so my wife grabbed it to head out. My mom has a little bag with important papers that she grabbed. We ran downstairs with some relatives on the ground floor. My son grabbed on to his mom for dear life and refused to let go. My daughter was home during the first siren, so she knew what the siren meant, but was still scared by the significance.
The first reaction you have when you awake this way, siren blaring, is to run. Thankfully, cool heads prevailed; it would have been embarrassing to go outside in minor articles of clothing. Once we were ready to go, we went outside to see from where the threat would originate. In the dark, with no breeze or rain, this is nearly impossible. After making sure everybody was downstairs, I went back up to our apartment to check the Weather Channel. Our relatives have the weather channel through Dish Network, which is not local. We have cable, so our weather channel has local updates. Sure enough, there was a ticker at the bottom of the screen giving us the details about the severe thunderstorm warning. It was headed our way from the direction of Cumberland. After a while, the siren turned off and silence settled in. Our neighbors and we were outside watching the skies for any bad signs. I went in and out to check the skies and the latest updates on TV. I'd like to reiterate that this is a horrible way to wake up in the morning.
Given our innate tendencies to seek more information and to be prepared, my wife and I decided to buy a radio that receives NOAA broadcasts and runs on batteries. This time around, I was able to check the TV. Had the power gone out, we would be clueless as to what to expect or how long to worry. Radio Shack has some walkie talkies that have a 10 mile radius and receive NOAA broadcasts. These would be really handy for both information and communication should things go bad. We may get those later. For now, we got a cheap little radio from Wal-Mart with a button that instantly tunes to the weather broadcasts. I need to buy stuff to tune up the van we recently bought, otherwise I would spend the extra money for the walkie talkies. We will also be going over LED flashlights this weekend. We did not bring our flashlights with us, so now we have to buy one. We prefer LED lights because their batteries last forever. You can leave them on for a couple days and they'll still be lit.
In the end, the severe weather system blew over us with no incident. It was traveling at 45 miles per hour, giving it little chance to dump its fury on us. The severe weather warning ended by 5:45. Back home in the Rio Grande Valley, we have lots of time to prepare for a hurricane. In the case of a tornado, you have to have your systems in place all the time. You can't afford to put it off because everything happens so quickly. Hot weather is a perfect breeding ground for tornados, so we may have more loud awakenings in store. One can only hope that the season passes without event and that we are sufficiently prepared should the worst happen. Personally, I prefer a hurricane over a tornado. The days of forewarning hurricanes offer give you plenty of time to prepare or get out of town, despite what some people would have you believe. If you have a Cat 5 hurricane coming at your direction, what do you think is going to happen? Whatever the case, you too should be ready for the worst.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Just like home

I think a little piece of the RGV came with me to the north. Over the past few weeks, we've been having temperatures up in the 90s and 100s. We do get some respite with cool days here and there. But, the locals will tell you that it's been a hot summer. Just today we saw people driving north towards Superior, WI to spend the weekend. There isn't much civilization up there, but there are parks, lakes, and more trees. Unlike the RGV, most apartments and houses do NOT have air conditioning. They come with a furnace for heat, but no system for cooling. When we stayed at the dorms in Oshkosh, the only cooling came from open windows. This is the same in Rice Lake, open window cooling is all the rage. Hot weather and high humidity make our stay here just like home.
If you grew up poor in the RGV, you may remember the days in which it was damn hot. The humidity prevents your body from cooling off by evaporation. Your sweat beads up. Your clothes, your bedding, and the very air you breathe are moist. As you listen to the sounds of the night, a barking dog, a passing car, the rustling of the mesquites, you try not to think about the heat. On occasion, you'll hit the shower with just the cold water to cool you off. A shower is just the right thing if you have a fan. Despite all the noise, you manage to sleep with your fan set on High. Some nights it works, others only offer a few minutes respite. You probably don't see this anymore with the increase in crime in the RGV, but we used to sleep with the door open. We would lock the screen door and sleep near the door. Some people would sleep outside if there were no mosquitoes.
We are suffering thusly these days. The only difference between here and home is that we don't get temperatures over 100 degrees frequently or for very long. When we return in October, the heat should be abating back home in the RGV. I hope it is. We are not particularly fond of the heat back home. We do like the warm winters, however.

Observation from afar

I've been reading the blog posts from my friends back in the RGV regarding Gov. Goodhair's (Sergio Sanchez's term) visit with local mayors for their endorsement. I have just a couple of points to make. The first, is that Democrats assume that they have a guaranteed vote in the RGV no matter what they do. In this I agree with Earn My Vote. You Dems, recall them I'm not one, take the RGV for granted. They need to start earning our vote rather than getting a blank check every election. People are starting to question "what have you done for me lately?". With Republicans, you know going in that you can only ask for so much. With Dems, on the other hand, the RGV gets promised the sun and the moon; only to get squat. On top of that, the Democratic leadership is NOT Hispanic. Seems like a lot of lip service to me on the left side.
My other point is that if you are an RGV mayor, your job is to get as much funding for your municipality as possible. You go for the party that can yield results. Let's say RGV Mayors endorse Kinky Friedman, an anti-politician. He's promised to do as little as possible while in office. How's that going to help? If they endorsed the tough grandma, who has alienated Republicans, who just happen to be in power, how does that help? If they endorse the Democrat, Chris Bell, who will have to fight with Republicans in the legislature to get anything done, how is that going to help? With resources running scarce due to the Middle East conflict on the Fed level, our local leaders have to rely on state resources. Any mayor worth their salt and interested in doing good for his community would and should do the same. You have to think about what's best for the community. What are you going to do, replace a Dem mayor with another Dem? That's brilliant!
If you are shocked or disappointed that our mayors are endorsing Rick Perry, you are a Dem who is more loyal to the party than the people you want to serve. Again, what has the Democratic party done for the RGV, lately? I'm not talking individual politicians. Some of our local reps actually do stuff for us. I'm talking about the Democratic party of Texas and at the national level. When I vote for mayor, I expect results, not party loyalty. Anybody running for mayor in the RGV will obviously run as a Dem, so what's the difference other than somebody willing to get things done rather than stick to party lines. Is this an open-minded thing to do?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Waiting for the fallout

After Immigration requested work eligibility verification from the plant workers, they gave the people 5 days to come up with the documentation needed. This means that Wednesday, tomorrow, is the last day that people will be able to work. The sentiment amongst some of the illegal immigrants who are forced out of their jobs is "vamos a darle hasta donde de", meaning "we are going to take it as far as it goes". Even if they don't get the proper documents, the plant is legally required to pay them for their work. For many, another paycheck is essential. Wednesday is the day when we get the fallout of last Friday's request by the feds.

One thing that has cropped up is a premium for "rented" identities. Under normal circumstances, you can buy a social security number and birth certificate for around $150. I have friends who have some extra identities stashed away for resale back home in the RGV. The going rate for a rented identity currently is $500. That's roughly one week's paycheck at the plant. It's a small price to pay for the chance to finish the season until the end of September. I know the rate because they are hitting all legal migrants with offers. Some people are taking the cash and others are wary of doing it. Those who are going into it see the potential of collecting unemployment insurance and a tax return on work they did not do. Those who have good credit and who are in college aren't going for the money because of the potential to cause problems with future credit and financial aid.

For those unwilling or unable to acquire the needed papers, they will be leaving the area for greener pastures. I'll be getting news about what the families are going to do. Really, there are only two options: stay, or leave.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Kindergarten Cop

If you have seen kindergarten cop, you have an idea of how my first day as a Head Start teacher went today. I say this with a smile on my face. It was a total disaster. I had kids running all over the place. They did not listen. And, I made a little girl cry. If it weren't so funny, I'd probably just leave the program. I was telling my wife, Alma, on the way home (we live close enough to walk to work and back) that I wasn't nervous or even scared the whole time, no matter how chaotic. I was alright with it all. I'm sure I can live with my job until the end of the season. Things will work out.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

I'm officially back

I'm officially back at the UMOS Migrant Head Start. My last day at Seneca was this past Friday. I worked there for roughly three weeks, I think. It would have been cool to finish out the season there just to say that I did it. I met my objective, however, of meeting some of the other migrants. In addition, my family needs me to have weekends off; and the Head Start needs teachers. By changing over to the school, I will be caring for the children of my friends over at the plant. I start again tomorrow.

Working at the plant was both easy and tough. The easy parts are the responsibilities. You basically do one job repeatedly throughout the day. On occasion, you get the opportunity to do something new. The gist of it is that the work is easy and boring, but very necessary. What is difficult are not the long hours; rather, the difficult parts are the cleaning and boredom. My hands are beat up from so much shoveling and working with a pitchfork. I got over the body soreness within a week. My hands continued having joint soreness and even developed nerve pain like you would get with carpal tunnel syndrome. My hands are dry, rough, and calloused. I don't mention these things for sympathy. These are things that some of the other workers are undergoing and will continue to face until the end of the season.

In my case, I can choose where I work. Some of the immigrants were curious about why I would be working at the plant after having some education. In fact, I became a bit of a curiosity to the community of migrants. They are there because they don't have too many options, work-wise. Their challenges include lack of education, lack of English, and lack of official work eligibility. Obviously, they were curious why I would submit myself to that kind of work. My usual answer was that Seneca pays better, which satisfied their curiosity. I came to realize something that I've often heard but never gave it any significance. That is, we must live up to our potentials. We must be the best we can be at what we do. With more power comes more responsibility (thanks Spider-Man). The other migrants respected me for working alongside them and expressed a little bit of admiration for having some education. But, I could sense that they expected me to do more. This is one reason why I chose to return to UMOS, a sense of obligation to take my place in the world.

There was a good chance that I would not be able to return to UMOS because I quit so suddenly, without advance notice. If they did not sorely need bilingual teachers, I probably would not be rehired. Of course, I would understand why. Even knowing this, I pressed to be rehired in order to meet their need. I had a couple people go to bat for me to get back in. This time, I'm in until the end of the season. I owe it to them for sticking out their necks on my behalf.

Next week, on Sunday, there will be a show on TLC called The Messengers. They will go out and spend a day as migrant workers and then come back to share the experience with an audience. I plan on watching it and invite others to check it out as well. Perhaps their experience will be similar to mine.

Some Bad Luck for Migrants

The migrants in our area have had a setback recently. For some, it's a major problem. For others, it's a little glitch. What is at issue is a loss of their investment. It takes more than just gas money for migrants to travel to "el norte". This is especially true for migrants who travel up north with their families. The whole trip is roughly budgeted at a little over $2000, conservatively. I met one fellow migrant who financed his trip with $3000. With today's gas prices, a family can expect to pay $300 or more for gasoline for every vehicle. Right off the top, if housing is not available, a family will need about $1000 to pay for the first month's housing. That's about $500 rent and $500 security deposit. In addition, there are food expenses. At first, with no kitchen or food prep area, migrant families will tend to go out to eat. Depending on how long it takes to find a place to live, the dining expenses can add up. They can save a little bit of money by eating sandwiches and other snacks, but it's neither satisfying nor exciting.
So, this past week, the feds asked the company where we work for a list of social security numbers for all the employees for verification. After going through them, they discovered a large number of people who need to show proof of their eligibility to work. The feds have given the employees 5 days to furnish these documents. Obviously, there are none. A couple things are at issue. Some of the migrants make up a social security number from thin air. Employers have no way of knowing whether a number is real or fake as there is no self-verifying feature like credit card numbers have. In case you didn't know, credit card numbers use a mathematical formula that can tell you if the number is fake. Social security numbers have no such security. The other issue is for those who went through the expense of buying identities. Some of them have the social security numbers of children whose parents have sold this information. This sets off red flags as well.

Many of these hard-working people are now having to make new plans. Their season here is over. The sad thing is that many of them were barely getting to earn back what they spent on their trip here. Others had not arrived at the break-even point yet. After the letters started coming in, the mood became somber around the factory. The break room is usually buzzing with chatter during breaks and lunch. This past Friday, the break room was quiet.

I don't know if they said it in jest or if they were serious. Some of the migrants said things like "por que no se esperaban hasta el fin de la temporada?", which is "why didn't they wait until the end of the season?" If it was a joke, it's funny. If it wasn't a joke, then it indicates that the feds usually wait until the end of the season to verify work eligibility. This is akin to beefed up checkpoints when a big load of drugs is expected to pass or when sheriff's deputies raid illegal casinos in a flurry. You know there is a wink-wink relationship in which law enforcement allows things to occur in exchange for the occasional "big bust" or "big crackdown" that makes headlines.

Much more is affected than just the profitability of all these migrant ventures. There are other consequences that have significant impacts upon the families, the community, and the employers. The families, for example, will have to look for less profitable jobs in order to try to recoup their investment or to mitigate the loss. Another problem is that the children of these Mexican families end up in programs like Head Start while they are here. We know that poverty is a cycle that needs to be broken. Much of the cycle is due to culture. Poof parents are less likely to read to their children. They are less likely to talk to their children. They are less likely to teach their children shapes, numbers, and other pre-school building blocks of knowledge. For these children, the opportunity to attend a development program like Head Start is the only stimulating environment they will have for the rest of the year.

The community suffers when a working season is cut short for migrant families as well. Keep in mind that the migrants don't live in a vacuum. They pay rent, eat food, seek entertainment, and go around "garajeando" while they are living in "el norte". When these migrants lose their jobs, they move on. A local economy can lose a big influx of income when migrants leave. In a big city, the impact is probably not a major factor. However, many of the plants are in towns with less than 10K and 5K residents. Heck, some of the towns up here would be hard pressed to reach 2K inhabitants. The smaller the town, the bigger the economic impact.

Employers also face problems from hiring undocumented workers. For one, they may face fines and penalties. The more immediate problem is filling the vacant positions they need to continue production. If a plant does not produce, you have a downstream and upstream of other dependent businesses that are affected. For example, a farmer may have tons of produce that are just sitting there waiting to be processed until the plant can hire people. During this time, the crop loses water from evaporation, which means that the farmer loses money because he is paid by weight. There are truck drivers who must carry the product from the farm to the plant who lose out on trips. There are truck drivers who carry finished goods to wholesalers or direct buyers who won't have the trip. There are grocery stores that may offer a more expensive selection because the less expensive items are held up in production.

I guess my point is that many people think that there is no connection between themselves and migrant workers. Preferring, instead, to believe that migrant workers are there to "take American jobs". It's tough to explain the economic concepts of comparative advantage and the expansion of the production possibility frontier to somebody who is angry about not being hired for a job that went to a migrant. It's tough to explain that there are more options available than that one job if you are willing to let go of your constraints. I am still opposed to illegal immigration, mind you. Misfortunes like this are the main reason for my opposition. Illegal immigrants face an uphill battle and may come out losing. I sympathize with the loss of a major source of income for these families. By giving incentives for them to come work up north, we sweeten the deal for them by sugar-coating the risk of going home empty-handed. I am opposed to the lawyers in Washington creating a system of selective enforcement. If you're going to prohibit illegal immigrants from working, do it right by setting up guaranteed, systematic enforcement. Or, if you can't do it right, don't do it at all. The current immigration system encourages illegals to take a gamble. We could make up the labor shortage with a guest worker program that would yield the same results while ensuring that immigrants don't face devastating losses such as the one faced by my co-workers recently.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Going Back to UMOS

I've come to my senses. I like money. It's really nice and green. I came up to Wisconsin to earn as much of it as possible. But, I lost something in the process. I've been away from the family for 80 hours a week. I have no free weekends and arrive exhausted at home. I basically get home, eat, and get ready for bed. So, I am going to trade down my compensation so that I can get weekends off to spend time with the family. Many of the things I wanted to do with the kids this Summer would not be possible if I stay at Seneca.

I took the opportunity to call UMOS to get my old job back. They are really hurting for bilingual teachers. They are looking for local teachers, bilingual or not. It looks like maybe I have the job back, but don't know for sure. It's strange that I'm going to get the know the children of my current co-workers.

I've learned about how UMOS is hurting for funding right now. They had actual budget cuts by the Feds. I'm not talking cuts in the rate of growth; these are actual reductions in the budget over the previous year. Yet the demand for child care services for migrants is great or greater. They are doing everything they can to meet the needs of migrant workers. I would like to help them with their funding issues, but don't know where to start.

In any case, I'll finish out the week at Seneca so that I can earn some overtime. I asked for Saturday off, so I suppose Friday will be the last day.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Nothing to report

There really isn't much to report. I'm still working at Seneca. Still working 12 hour shifts. My wife is worried that I am wearing myself out and wants me to take a day off. I've agreed to take Saturday off, although the thought of all that lost overtime is painful. I figure I'll have another couple weeks before she asks me to get a day off again.
One important piece of news for me is that the Mrs.. has decided to stay up here in Wisconsin until October, when the season ends. This means that she will lose her job at the Hidalgo County Head Start and that our daughter will start school here in Rice Lake. Our son currently attends the Migrant Head Start, where he will stay until October.
For once in our lives, we are earning enough money to have a little surplus. It feels nice not to be struggling. Soon, however, we'll be going back to the RGV. One hopes that the job market will be improved in South Texas.
RGV Life Podcast

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Irony, La Ironia

My wife and I are aware that we live in the Rio Grande Valley where being bilingual is commonplace. For this reason, we have decided to expose our kids to both English and Spanish. We teach them Spanish when they are babies and then let them pick up English as they get older. This worked well with our daughter, Tien. However, with the boy, it's more difficult because we all speak English, primarily. He only spoke a few words to grandma and grandpa in Spanish. What is ironic is that now that he is here in Head Start in Rice Lake, WI, he is learning to speak Spanish. It's backwards. He has no need for Spanish here in an all English area and he's speaking it. Back home, we could barely get him to try.

Saved some, lost some

In my job over at Seneca, in the tons and tons of green beans, I occasionally get live animals that get swept up by the farm machinery. I've had rabbits, rats, mice, snakes, and toads. Some arrive dead and some arrive living.  There isn't much one can do for dead animals. The live ones, I can rescue and put out of the way so that they have a chance to live longer lives.
I swear that I work with a bunch of savages. When they see the toads going by in the conveyor or hopping around in the dumper, they grab them and toss them out into the parking lot. These creatures were not designed for a 20 foot flight onto asphalt. Upon impact, they stop moving. When I rescued a snake, I put it down by the fence so that it would go away. As soon as I did that, this Mexican comes by with a shovel, scoops it up, and flings the snake into the street where it got run over by a car. I have to rescue these animals when nobody is looking because there is no compassion from these beasts.
Today, I saved a couple toads. I've rescued others this week as well.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How they do it

One gets curious about how some of the undocumented workers come into the country. One common way of doing it is to swim across the Rio Grande and run like hell. But not everybody does this. There is a much easier and less risky way of doing it. All you have to do is cross the bridge legally. Yes, some of the people working up here in Wisconsin came across the border legally. They did this by getting a tourist visa and then staying here. All they need to do to get the visa is show proof of employment and other documents that prove that the person has a stable life back home. Once here, they go find work. Back in the RGV, many undocumented workers will cross the bridge as tourists and then send their visa back home with somebody. The reason for this is that if there is a raid and they get picked up, they won't lose their visa. They get shipped back to Mexico and are back in the U.S. the next day, legally. Many of the undocumented workers actually do have bank accounts and other proof of their stability back home. However, if they did not, they could buy counterfeit documentation.
In a way, these desmojados (they didn't swim across) are taking from our country. On the other hand, while they stay and work, they are buying food, paying rent, buying American goods, and paying somebody else's taxes. This brings me to how they are able to acquire work once they are here. Simply, they rent somebody's identity. What you do is pay somebody who won't be working to borrow their name and social security number for one year. The person makes money up front and in the back-end with their tax return. In any case, it seems we both win. We get the labor and we get what they spend on living expenses; they earn more money than they would back home.
I can't help laughing at how easily simple Mexicans are able to circumvent all the laws created by the brilliant minds in Congress. I don't begrudge people coming here to seek opportunity. I am opposed to the breaking of the law, which is a misdemeanor. Either make the law with teeth or get rid of it. I want our government to enforce their law so that they may figure out how dumb the whole thing is. Hundreds of brilliant lawyers could not come up with something to stop tourists from overstaying their visas. Now Congress is doing all they can to "solve the immigration problem". The problem is not immigration, it's Congress. They either need to grow a pair and shut down the border, or they should just get out of the business. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, don't let these clowns fool you with their "for" or "against" stances on immigration issues. At the end of the day, they will "compromise" on a bill that is missing "cojones" and leave the same mess we have now, albeit with more paperwork. When you go out and vote, pay attention to the things that matter to you like education, abortion, farm subsidies, or whatever floats your boat. Don't let these Bozos fool you into thinking that only one issue is at stake here. Choose the official that best represents your overall view on how the government should be run, not just on a single issue.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Working in the factory

I am working at Seneca in Cumberland, which is about 15 miles away from Rice Lake, WI. This canning plant processes green beans. There are two 12 hour shifts with no scheduled days off during the canning season. There are some days that there may not be any work. At first, work was sporadic. We'd work a day or two and have a day or two off. It appears that we are now entering full production. We won't be having days off for a long time. The thinking amongst the migrant workers here is "nomas son tres meses". Three months of 80 hour work weeks. Some people are earning minimum wage, which is $6.50/hr in Wisconsin; others are earning more. The work is easy and boring. If you can stand the monotony, there is plenty of overtime available. Jobs are demanding in one of two ways: you have to stay in one place and do the same thing every day or you have mobility and are working hard cleaning up after the machinery. Most everybody will be on their feet for 11.5 hours daily (we have 30 minutes lunch).
Many of the workers here come from Eagle Pass, TX and Coahuila. There are some workers from other parts of Texas and Mexico. There are legal and illegal workers. The undocumented amongst us have proof of their eligibility to work in the form of IDs and social security numbers. Some people have their new identities lined up for next year already. There are hard workers; and there are some who make you wonder why they came at all, if they don't want to work. There are even families that come to work here together and then go back to Texas or Mexico to live off their earnings. Even at minimum wage, they can earn about $2,400/month each. Those who are returning workers or have jobs higher on the pay scale can take home much more than that. For three months' work, a family can fare well for themselves. One benefit of working such long hours is that you are too tired to go out and spend your money other than to meet necessities.
My job is unloading the trailers filled with green beans to feed the machinery that beckons for more. I do this by operating a hydraulic dumper that tilts the trailer so that the green beans slide onto a conveyor. Each trailer is about 65,000 lbs when full. The beans themselves are about 45,000 lbs. I have dumped, at most, 18 trailers in one day. This will probably increase when we run at full capacity. It's an easy job, requiring a little bit of technique. I'm the only worker who is outside all day, rain or shine. Fortunately, the temperatures here are generally up in the 80s and may at some point this season hit 90 degrees. Mornings are between 50 and 70 degrees. It takes roughly 30 to 60 minutes to empty a trailer, depending on the speed of the conveyor. This means that I have a lot of time to fill in between loads. My job is easy, it's the side job that wears me out. I generally go around what are called Super Snippers, machines that snip the ends off of the green beans, and sweep up any that have fallen out. After sweeping the bits and pieces that fall out into a pile, I get a shovel to pick them up and toss them onto a trash conveyor. It's a never-ending process. As soon as I finish one pile, another is built up. I do this when I'm not doing my official job on the dumper.
I am meeting many people and making new friends. There is the beginning of camaraderie amongst the workers. I suppose it's inevitable after spending so much time together every day. There is a connection between the workers at Seneca and the previous job I had at UMOS. The latter takes care of the children of the workers at the former. This means that many of the workers with kids know my wife or one of my friends at the Head Start. It's a small community of migrants here. There are roughly 200 workers for both shifts. Not everybody knows each other, but we recognize each other at local shops.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Back Online

The local cable company here in Rice Lake, WI has installed our Internet connection. I am now back online with a high speed connection. I have much to write. The only issue remaining is having the time to sit down and write. I've been getting up at 4 AM all week to go to work, with the exception of Monday. I don't get home until roughly 6:30 or 7 PM. This means that I only have a few hours of useful consciousness before I need to hit the hay.
I'll be catching up on all my favorite blogs in the next few days. I look forward to reading what is going on in the Rio Grande Valley.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Back online soon

I'll be back online by July 8th. I've ordered cable internet to be installed. Here at the library in Rice Lake, I only get 30 minutes to access the computer. After catching up on email and posting the latest press releases on SpinRGV, I don't have much time left over to write anything.
There are many things to share. I've met many people at the canning plant from Mexico and other parts of Texas. I'm also experiencing some pretty exhaustive work which leaves me tired and sore every day. It's very demanding from me, but it gives much to write about. My job is actually very simple and not so demanding, which means that I need to keep myself busy doing odd jobs around my area of the plant. It's the odd jobs that are murder.
I may end up going to the school again, later in the season. There will be several employees who will be leaving early, leaving the Head Start short on bilingual people. I do believe in the project, so if I can help it succeed through the rest of the season, I will.
One thing I would like to point out is that I am missing a lot of what's going on in the Rio Grande Valley without the Internet. Redistricting has my interest; if I could read more about it. Also, I'm curious what's going on with the state budget and the state of affairs in Edinburg, McAllen, and western Hidalgo County. I may not be in the RGV, physically, but you can count on me having an opinion.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Mobile audio blog entry by me, Shaine Mata, for RGV Life. Mobile entries are on the go blog entries whenever computer access is not available.

MP3 File
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