Thursday, June 22, 2006

I did it!

I've never been a money grubbing worker, so this is my first time. I feel bad about leaving my current job for another; but at the same time, I recognize that I need the money and it would be irresponsible to stay put. We need to show a profit on this trip. So far, we are in the negative. I learned that our season will not be four months as I thought. It will only be three months. With a shortened season, we won't earn as much as we need if we both work at the Head Start. Our needs include our earning goal and the need to recover what we have spent. My wife will stay on and I will jump over to another job that pays better. It's not difficult or dangerous. In fact, the job is very boring and routine.
Today, I went over to the Seneca plant to apply for the job. It's funny, I got the job before I even finished filling out the application. The biggest selling point was that I am bilingual. Many of the applicants don't speak English. They were already warming up one of the office workers to help me fill out the application. When I gave a "good morning", you could see the relief that I could fill out the application on my own. I was talking to the person in charge of hiring. He told me that the locals don't usually tough it out the entire season. It's the migrant workers who will stay for the long haul. I start orientation tomorrow. I wish I could have given longer notice before changing jobs. I hate to just up and leave like that. I need to turn in a letter of resignation tomorrow. So, I have another job now.
I think I can still continue blogging regularly, but there will be a pause this weekend. Believe it or not, AOL does NOT have a local dial-up number for Rice Lake. The apartment where we will be moving in has a computer and internet service company across the street, so I'll go over there to see what we can do to get me hooked up. I'll be working 12 hour shifts 7 days a week until the end of September. So expect few and boring entries.

Good opportunity for change

I got wind of a good opportunity today. I'm going to follow up tomorrow to see what my prospects are. If the opportunity is good, then I will have to do something that I don't like doing. I'd end up jumping ship from one job to another with a better offer. I have tried loyalty to my employers in the past and have wound up used and broke. So dumping one job for another goes against my nature. Usually, I'll stick to a job until it is no longer fulfilling, quit, wander around, and find another job. It is difficult to go against my nature by finding another job while employed; but this year has been about change for me.
I'm learning some things about my current job that would mean that I will have wasted my trip north. I'd end up in the RGV again without having met my objective. As much as I want to be loyal and be a part of the group, I'm seeing that I won't get where I want to go. Ironically, the job would be very fulfilling if I were to ignore my objectives. I can't afford to set aside my personal goals for the sake of my job any longer. I see a lot of people who have deferred their own personal goals who look back and wonder where the time went. I don't want to be one of those people who gave their lives to their jobs with nothing to show for it. It's probably arrogant for me to expect an employer to be as loyal to me as I am to them.
All this is a bit premature. I don't know for certain if the opportunity is such a big step forward yet. I do like my current job. I like the people, I like the mission. But I think I've been screwed over enough that this trip is turning out to be unprofitable. I would let it slide if I even stood of chance of breaking even. But, it's unlikely. It sounds cliché, but it's nothing personal, it's just business.
For example, the volunteering was supposed to be one week during the training. They volunteered me two weeks instead. So I won't get paid for that time. I applied for the job in the RGV so that I could get the traveling stipend. Since I was hired here, I did not get the stipend. I thought the season would go until October. It turns out that it will end in September. I am doubtful that I'll get the stipend to go back to the RGV. All in all, my profit keeps slipping away. I can't afford that and the current losses.

Monday, June 19, 2006

New Site for Los Fresnos

I found this site with news about Los Fresnos. I thought I'd share it so other bloggers can link to it. It seems authentic, so I hate to see it die out. Anybody who can link to it should. I'll be adding it to my links later. I don't see any RSS buttons, otherwise it would go on the SpinRGV site as a regular headliner.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Arrived at Rice Lake

We have arrived at Rice Lake, WI. This is where we will live for the season. We left St Paul, MN this morning around 9 am. We took I-35E north and then turned onto U.S. Hwy 8 to I-59. That practically brought us to Rice Lake. We stopped at Turtle Lake, WI for lunch. The diner was nicely decorated on the inside; they had a Coca-Cola theme throughout with checkered black and white tile on the floor. The menu was a bit limited, but they made the few options very well.
We arrived at Rice Lake a little before 3 pm. It was easy to find the AmericInn. We took all of our stuff off the truck and moved it into the room. We have until Friday to find an apartment here. After that, the company will house us at the motel on a case-by-case basis depending on our success in finding a place to live. Traveling, even though you are sitting the whole time, takes a lot out of you, so we took a short nap. A while later, we got a call from some friends who had arrived here and went to visit a family member. They called us to join them so they could show us around town. We ate at a Taco John's restaurant. This is a franchise similar to Taco Bell, except Taco John's is a little closer, but not exactly, Mexican.
Afterwards, we followed our friends so that we could see where we will be working. We visited the center briefly. The grass in the front yard is tall and it looks like there may be a little work to do, but it looks like a good site. I look forward to working there.
Alma and I went to Wal-Mart to buy some groceries and a cooler. As fun as dining out is, it's bad for your health and economically unsustainable. We just got the staple items and a few other things. We will save a little with the continental breakfasts here at the AmericInn.
There are some big differences between up here and down in the RGV. For one, there are no Whataburgers. That's pretty sad for people who migrate from Texas. At the Wal-Mart, another big difference is that camping and fishing are big-time entertainment up here, so the sporting goods section has some stuff that you don't find back home. Citrus is also more expensive. At Oshkosh, they were selling oranges for 50 cents each! That was at Wal-Mart where they promise low prices, Always! On the other hand, milk is a dollar cheaper than in the RGV.
We haven't had a good look at the housing market. Apartments aren't much cheaper than in the RGV. Rent typically goes between $450 and $600 a month, from our searching. We got one of those free publications with real estate listings. There are many houses in the 200K range listed. Towards the end, they have the cheaper houses, mostly fixer-uppers. I get the feeling that Rice Lake is a sort of recreation town. I'll find out later what the main industries are. By the look of the town, if you just happened to drive in, there doesn't appear to be much going on. Yet, there are good, well-paying jobs here. You have to wonder what sustains this place. For Wal-Mart to put a Supercenter here, there must be traffic. Although, when we were there earlier, the place was almost deserted. At 9 pm at the Wal-Marts in the RGV on a Sunday night, there would be lines at the checkouts.
We have not really talked to many people yet; so, we don't know how the natives are, culturally. Our interaction has been mostly transactional. As I become more acquainted with the area and the people, I'll be posting more about it. Of course, part of my work here entails interviewing migrants, too. So, I'll let you know about the people I meet. Due to the need for confidentiality, I will be calling the migrants by first name and last initial, keeping particulars to a minimum. I will not be writing about the children with whom I will be working. Everything I've worked towards for this summer will start to fall in place over the next two weeks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I must be nuts

I went swimming earlier this evening at the UWOSH indoor swimming pool. I was expecting the worst. I remember as a kid when I would go swimming in the lakes in Wisconsin. One year when we lived in Madison, our apartment complex had a pool. All experiences involved damn cold water. I was pleasantly surprised tonight. The water was a bit shocking, but not the sort of cold that leaves you breathless. As a guest of UW, I am allowed to use the facility. I went with a friend and my son around 7:30. It took us a while to find the way into the pool, they keep it in the basement. My friend had been here last year and went swimming. He forgot how to get in. The water is colder than an RGV swimming pool. It didn't take long for my toes and legs to start cramping up. The valley definitely has a advantage in pool temperatures.
If you want to experience a good pool, you must go to the Mission Northside Pool, next to Mission High School. That pool is heated all year. It's awesome on the few cold days that we have in the valley. My freshman year, we had a swim meet over the Christmas break during a "freeze". It feels great to jump in water that's in the 70's when the air temperature is in the 30's. Getting out of the pool between races was horrible, being all wet and in a swimsuit with cold gusts.
RGV Life Podcast

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I'm not leaving

I got an anonymous comment on yesterday's post. I re-read the post and towards the end it sounds like I'm not going back to the RGV. I'm sure that anonymous will be disappointed, but I will be returning home to Mission, Texas. This is just a seasonal job. I expect to be going home by October. As much as I like Wisconsin, the area where I'm going is only an hour away from St. Paul, one of the coldest spots in America during the winter. There is a damn good reason why we have Winter Texans in the Rio Grande Valley every year. If you look in my 43 Things list, you'll see that freezing my ______ off is not listed. Besides, the valley is my home.
I haven't interviewed anybody, today. My mind was mostly on my job interview. I wound up having two interviews for jobs I had not considered. They are short-staffed in bus drivers, so I volunteered to get my Class B license so that I can drive the bus. This would be on top of my duties as a teacher, should I get the job. The funny thing is that I intended to interview for the teacher assistant position, but it was suggested I apply for the teaching position instead. So, I wound up having two interviews and could potentially end up having double duty, which is alright by me. I'll find out if I got the job or jobs tomorrow. I hope I do for the free weekends.
I want to point out a couple differences between the RGV and Oshkosh. There are tons of apartments leasing for $250 to $350 per month currently because all the students at UWOSH have left for the summer. Wal-Mart has a sign out on a table that says "Now Hiring", possibly for the same reason. If you're a young person trying to get into Wal-Mart back in the RGV, good luck. They have hundreds of applicants every week. It would be easier to apply and get hired outside the RGV and then transfer back home if you are interested in returning to the valley. You can come here or go to some other town or state up north. I'm not trying to get people to move to Oshkosh. Rather, I would like to persuade you, in case you are struggling in the RGV, to let go of your fear of leaving the comfort of the Magic Valley.
I guess I've learned the hard way that one must be willing to relocate. It doesn't have to be forever, just long enough for you to save some money and gain experience that would be denied to you in a flooded labor market. Go where there is work. Where there is more work than employees, there is opportunity to advance. Take advantage of the opportunities so that when you go back to the RGV, you have a good work history and a minimum pay requirement that is more than minimum. There are even companies that pay well and there is "no experience required, will train".
Mexican and Tejano culture is my culture too. I realize that suggesting to people in the RGV to leave their families and familiar surroundings behind to seek better opportunities and experiences is a lot to ask. Look at it this way. If you gave it your best outside the RGV and you are no better off than you were back home, you lost nothing and have at least gained the experience of living outside the RGV. If, on the other hand, do well for yourself, you will have raised the bar for the minimum level of pay you will accept. If geography doesn't constrain you, opportunities abound.
RGV Life Podcast

Monday, June 12, 2006

The good and the bad

We had the opportunity to meet the executives of UMOS today. We learned about the history of the organization and some challenges. Very interesting stuff. It was followed by more training. Today we were joined by support staff, which made our group bigger. In addition, UW-Oshkosh is hosting some summer camps. The campus is flooded with high school kids. We did have the good fortune to find Uncalendars. I got hooked on them at UT-Austin.
Tomorrow, I officially interview for my job after a day of training. It's a formality of sorts, I'm practically in already due to the shortage of workers. In case anybody is interested, the Migrant Head Start program needs bus drivers and other personnel for the schools. If you don't mind relocating, there is work for you outside of Texas. This brings me to a related subject that popped up today.
While we were fighting to stay awake during the training, my wife wrote me a note asking if we could come to Wisconsin again next year. I'm all for it. I checked the weather last night. Back home, the temperature is up at 100 degrees. Yikes! We're cold most of the time up here. Of course, my answer is yes; we can come again next summer.
We then started talking about our choices over the past 11 years of our marriage. We are thinking that it's about time that we let go of our safety zone in the RGV. It's easy to blame the Rio Grande Valley and employers there for not providing a decent living for us. In my moments of frustration, I have begrudged the lack of good opportunities back home. The truth of the matter is, it's our own fault. Whenever unions and other pro-labor groups start bitching about jobs going overseas, they are being whiney-assed like me. There is plenty of work in America. The problem is that the people who complain, like me, don't want to make the effort to learn a new skill or to relocate to where there are good jobs. Of course, Democrats and other vultures are quick to blame big business for being cold and heartless, bordering treasonous. It's easy to find a scapegoat rather than take responsibility for the outcome of your life.
My wife and I have long known the disadvantage of living in the RGV: jobs pay less than their equivalents in other parts of the country. But, we chose to stay. We unrealistically expected good opportunities to come to us rather than us go to them. For a long time I accepted what I could get with the lie that if I could make it in the RGV, I could make it anywhere. I'm so foolish sometimes. I've decided to let go of the RGV crutch and to seek opportunity wherever it is. In the lottery of life, the rule is simple, you have to play to win.
RGV Life Podcast

Chat over some beers

Tonight, I decided to talk to a long-time migrant friend of mine who came to the Migrant Head Start training. He now works as a bus driver for the program during the summer. Back home, he also works as a bus driver for the Head Start program under the Texas Migrant Council. Due to some family ties, I've known him for almost two decades. We call him Soto, although that's not his real name. He got his nickname because he came from Soto La Marina, Tamaulipas in Mexico. He has been coming up north for a long time already. Now, he has a family with a son at UT Austin and two lovely daughters who are about to bloom into their adulthoods. Today was his first day in Oshkosh before the long week of really boring training for him, my second. So, we went to have a couple beers to console ourselves over our ill-fate.
Just to give you an idea of who he is, Soto is one of the hard-working Mexicans who came to the U.S. to make a better life for himself. He has done everything by the book immigration-wise. To sum it up, let's say that he has a good head on his shoulders these days. When he first started, Soto worked with my family in the fields in Wisconsin. One thing about migrants is that we tend to travel in packs. If one person goes north to work, a brother, a sister, a brother-in-law, an aunt, a cousin, or a friend will tag along. This is especially true if there is guaranteed work and lodging. Back then, Soto had just married into the family. Until recent years when he joined the Head Start program, he and his family worked in the fields. For the most part, they have come to the Wautoma, Wisconsin area for work in the pickle harvest. This is all field work. His children have had the opportunity to work in the fields alongside their parents. 
I asked Soto if he ever ventured to other parts of the country for work. He told me tonight that he did venture to Minnesota and North Dakota a little. There is plenty of work out there. He was telling me that you run into Mexicans like you were in the RGV. The only problem is that there is no housing out in those areas. They worked there for a brief period. They decided to leave because of the lack of housing. After working all day, they had to sleep in their vehicles. Given the difficulties, they decided to go back to the Wautoma area, where they knew there was housing available for migrants. Once, they ventured into Indiana, out by Kokomo and Marion. The same thing happened, the whole experience was a hardship for them because they had no social network to help them make the trip successful. As a result, they have preferred to come to Wisconsin to work because of the extensive network of family, other migrants, social services like UMOS, and other intangibles that make it easier to get by. 
I asked him why he still migrates after all these years. He thought it was funny I would ask, but he told me anyway. First and foremost, the weather is much better in Wisconsin during the summer than it is back in the RGV. One summer, he stayed in the RGV because his family got a house through the Mission Service Project, which will build you a home if you agree to work for them to build about 16 other homes. It's a self-perpetuating housing project. He toughed out the summer, but he knew he'd never stay another. Another reason for coming up north to work is that it's a break in the routine. He likes the change of pace. Even though he and his family come here to work, they see it as a sort of vacation from everything back in the Rio Grande Valley. Like he says, "hay mucho pedo alla en el valle". There are too many bad things going on in the RGV compared to up north.  Up here, he feels like he gets away from all the bad news. The third reason why he still migrates is that his family doesn't work in the RGV. This is due to the same problem of there being plenty of work, but low wages. They would rather work hard a few months to make a lot of money, by their standards, than work all year to scrape by. Another reason why they still migrate after so many years is due to custom. They've done it for so long that it's just something they do. It works, so why change?
We chatted about some other things. We hadn't talked in a while, so we were catching up on some stuff. I remember working side-by-side with him in the fields when I was a kid. We also traveled up here and worked at different camps, getting together on weekends for family gatherings. Now that he has found something that pays the bills without backbreaking labor, I'm glad for him. I think that he saw being a bus driver as a way out of working in the fields; yet here he is, in his way, helping other migrants doing what he did for so many years. There is a sense, amongst many of the employees of the Migrant Head Start program, of giving back to the migrant community. Many of the teachers, teaching assistants, child development coordinators, and other Head Start workers are former migrants, or have family with them who are still working the fields. There is an empathetic connection between the Head Start workers and the people who benefit from the service. It's nice to see that the whole program is not an academic exercise for the employees. We do have a few non-Hispanics in the crew who have never experienced the migrant life, but they seem to shrug off the weirdness and do their job.
Well, I have to go to bed. Tomorrow, the CEO of UMOS will be speaking to us. Also, if I stay up late, it will be that much more difficult to stay awake during those boring training sessions. I can't get enough coffee or energy drinks to help fight the sleepiness, it seems. The irony is that we are being taught to make learning fun and engaging for children while we are being bored to tears. A little practice what you preach is in order, in my opinion.
RGV Life Podcast

Sunday, June 04, 2006

We have arrived at the ramada camp north of Wautoma.

We have arrived at wisconsin. Drive is almost over.

We have crossed the Mississippi into Illinois at Cairo. We are in the land of Lincoln.

We are entering missouri on interstate 55.

We are leaving the migrant center after some rest and showers. We are going to grab some coffee and then head to out.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

There is a hispanic newspaper in Arkansas. You can read it at weekly.

We have finally left texas. Damn It's a big state! We will stop to rest at the Hope migrant mission in Arkansas until midnight.

We are on our way to wisconsin. Kids were waiting to leave so they could sleep. We will stop briefly in austin. Then on to Hope AR.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Blackout commences

The text post blackout commences tonight. I don't know how long I'll be away from computers. Hopefully not too long. I'd like to post press releases on the SpinRGV Blog as quickly as possible, but I may fall behind. I'll be posting audio entries on RGV Life. The RGV Life Podcast may not have any show updates depending on how "in touch" I am with events in the Rio Grande Valley. Maybe I'll start a new RGV Life Podcast Migrant Series or something.
In the coming days, expect audio posts telling you about our trip and places we are visiting. I have no way of posting pictures, otherwise I would do it. I will be taking my digital camera on the trip. We'll also have our iRiver to record anything. I expect a boring trip, frankly. The kids may be excited to see new things. We leave in three hours.
RGV Life Podcast

Counting down the hours

Today, we spent our time cleaning up and putting stuff away around the house. I made a few trips to the Laundromat to wash the clothes. We won't be taking most of them with us to save us some trouble. We squeezed most of our stuff in a big plastic container. Our toiletries are in a separate box. Besides, we can hit yard sales up in Wisconsin and buy clothes that are better suited to their weather up there. Even in the summer, most days are in the 70's or 80's. Nights fall down to the 50's. My daughter is packing a swim suit because she plans on going swimming. I've warned her that the lakes up there are cold. You can feel layers of cold as you swim around in the lakes. The deeper you go, the colder the water gets; and it starts off cold by our standards. You dive in brown and come out blue. I guess you have to experience it for yourself.
One issue has come up. We had an idea of how we would deal with it before, but we have new developments. The issue is childcare. My wife will be in training for 2 weeks at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. Obviously, I'll watch my own kids. As my wife says, it's not babysitting if they are your kids. What we have determined is that I will have to be a single dad for about two weeks. I'll also have to line up work.Most of the seasonal plants begin production around May 18. Therefore, there is time for me to do both. Our concern is afterwards. What if UMOS does not allow us to put our 4 year old in the same school where my wife will work? Where will our daughter go if he does get in?
We have laid some groundwork and have prospects. Rice Lake, WI has a boys and girls club. We are pretty sure Tien can spend the day there. If Magnus is not able to attend classes where my wife will work, then we hope to hire the daughter of one of the other migrants to watch them both. Fortunately, we expect to earn more than enough to cover the cost. We have not put our kids in daycare by choice. Only our daughter, Tien, went to daycare at UT-Austin. They kept her for a couple hours when Alma and I had classes at the same time. We didn't dump her there and leave her there all day. We'd go right over and pick her up as soon as we could. Now, grandma watches the young one. Family is not the same as daycare. Obviously, I trust my mother-in-law as she raised my wife. If grandma weren't around, one of us would stay home. We are having trouble going with a babysitter as it is "selling out" somewhat. On the other hand, we have the knowledge that the situation is only temporary and not a lifestyle. We don't want strangers raising our kids. They will be back in the RGV and with family again soon.
For now, we are counting down the hours until our departure. All we can do is check and double-check that we have everything in order. Little things crop up, like running out of minutes on our cell phone. If you are in a similar situation, call your mobile company and tell them that you want to upgrade to a higher rate plan because you anticipate running out of minutes. Tell them that you want the plan to take effect immediately rather than at the end of the cycle. The advantage of this is that you get the full bucket of minutes immediately, which erases your usage for the month. You start from scratch, even if there are only two days left in the cycle. Little things like that come up.
RGV Life Podcast

Thursday, June 01, 2006

We're having a lazy day at home. Just messing around about a week ago.

This is our son Magnus fooling around at home. He's 4 years old and very energetic.

It's too quiet

We have a lot of time to prepare for our trip up to Wisconsin. We will be leaving on Friday at midnight. This way, we can visit my brother for a while in daylight before heading up north. We spent the day taking care of bills. I discovered that Texas Gas Service was way behind. I don't look at the bills because I have automatic payments scheduled. The last time I checked, my gas was about $12 per month. I scheduled $20 monthly payments so that we would have credit. I did not realize that our monthly gas has gone up to $26/mo. So we owed $50; there goes my credit. We used to not cook as much. Lately, since I've been home, I've been cooking. I usually prep food in advance of working the pans, so I tend to cook on high flames. When you cook on medium, you have time to prep as you go.
Other things we did included paying our Post Net mailbox through November, depositing the money from the sale of my wife's van, cancel our car insurance, and other little errands for family. My son and I got haircuts. He was scratching his head a lot from the heat and I need to look good for my job hunt up in Wisconsin. Tomorrow, we need to do laundry. We are only taking the bare essentials, but who wants to come back home to a house full of dirty laundry? We also need to pay CPL and T-Mobile. We'll be ready for our departure date.
We don't really need it, but we have a house sitter for the time we'll be gone. I say we don't need it because we live in a second story apartment. The likelihood of having a break-in is small. It's mostly a "gift" to my brother-in-law so that he has some privacy. In any case, somebody will be here to take care of things and check our mail.
When I was a kid, my parents would begin the Texas part of the trip at midnight as well. I think this was probably to avoid the heat as much as possible. We did not always have the best vehicles. You don't want your car to overheat on a 1000 mile journey. We don't have that problem on this trip. My mom's truck is still in good condition, enough to brave the heat. It's mostly a scheduling issue so that we can stay a while with my brother. This means that we'll be passing by Falfurrias around 1 AM. They have rarely given us problems. I think we were searched only once in all the years we passed through there.
I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I'll bring it up. Back when we were migrants as a kid, migrants did not have cell phones. Once you were on the road, you were in a blackout period unless you stopped to make calls at gas stations. Usually, we simply drove all the way to our destination before calling anybody. The people we would call would be whomever was in the RGV to let them know we made it. We would then get to calling people we knew to find out where the work was. We'd find a place to stay and then go out looking for work. Back then, we'd have to call our job prospects to find out if we were hired because we had no contact number. If we stayed at a hotel/motel, then we could give that phone number for contact. Suffice it to say, communication was not very easy for migrants. With the popularity of mobile phones these days, I expect that there is improved efficiency in job hunting. The beauty is that you can buy a pre-paid mobile phone for the area code where you'll be without being set back too much. If you're not fond of your phone number, your current service provider can change it to your new area code. Best of all is that long-distance rates have gone through the floor. Making long distance calls is so cheap these days. Communication is the least of your problems.
Another improvement in communication is email. You can send a text message from your phone to an email address. You can also receive short emails to your phone as text messages. With a fancy phone, you can access your Yahoo account through your phone's web browser. Even if you don't have a phone, you can stop by a library or other public place that offers internet access to check your email. If you have a laptop, more possibilities open up with the popularity of Wi-Fi. I haven't migrated for many years, but I have traveled. Internet makes travel much easier than it used to be. Internet also makes keeping in touch with home much easier and cheaper. 1000 miles is not what it used to be.
RGV Life Podcast