LaGRULLA, Texas _ For the past 20 years, Sam and Fedencia Barrera and their children have been working in the fields to make a better life for themselves.

The Barreras and their three sons and daughter have been traveling to Walla Walla, Pasco and other places in the Northwest to work harvest before returning to the South Texas Valley, where they have built a home.

Within the past 20 years, their house has grown from a crowded four rooms to a more spacious, seven-room home.

``Not one nickel from Texas has been used to build this house. Every penny that has gone into the house, was earned up north,'' Fedencia said in Spanish, somewhat resentful that there aren't enough jobs at home for the family to earn a living.

Fedencia, 48, and her 58-year-old husband are natives of Mexico and became U.S. citizens in 1970, which is when they first started migrating to the Northwest.

``All the money we've earned has come from Pasco, where we pick asparagus; Walla Walla, where we've worked in the onion fields; and in Idaho, where we've also worked onion and the hop crops,'' Fedencia said.

Her children, Sam, 28; Iris Martinez, 26 and also a daughter-in-law of Raul and Maria Elena Martinez; Cesar, 23; and Hector, 22, spent most of their childhood in Walla Walla.

``We started taking our children there since they were very little. At the time there were no child labor laws and we took Hector at the age of 3 to work with us in the onion fields (in Walla Walla),'' Fedencia recalled.

``We taught him how to hold the knife and how to grab one onion at a time and cut it,'' she said.

Like all migrant workers, their days began at dawn and continued until after the sun set.

While in Walla Walla, Sam would work all day long in the onion fields while Fedencia would return to the Walla Walla Farm Labor Camp to prepare meals for her family. Then, from 1:30 to 4 p.m. she would work as a cook at ABC Taco, then go to work as a seamstress for a small company located at Walla Walla Regional Airport.

``This was daily. I don't think my children ever ate a warm meal. I would cook in the mornings or at noon for the entire day,'' Fedencia said.

``While we were at work, the children were at the day care center at the labor camp until they were old enough to come work with us in the fields, and that was usually at the age of 7 or so.''

The Barrera family has a lot of memories of Walla Walla. About six photo albums are filled with pictures of the children celebrating birthdays at the labor camp, attending events at the day care center, working in the fields and enjoying a day off at Pioneer Park.

All the hard work, the traveling and constant relocation has proved beneficial for the family, Fedencia says.

``Little by little, we've been able to build our house. We started off in 1973 when we bought the land for $300, which at that time was still a lot of money. And every year we've added more and more,'' she said. ``Now the money we earn will be used to fix up the outside.''

It's taken 20 years for Fedencia to have the house she's always wanted. Her home, which is located about four miles outside of LaGrulla, is decorated with handmade curtains and bedspreads that Fedencia has made.

She also earns money sewing for people during the winter.

``I'm very proud of my home because it's all made by hand and built from hard-earned money,'' she said.

But her biggest pride, she said, is letting people know that migrant families have beautiful homes.

``Many people think that we are used to living in three-rooms homes, without furniture, and everyone crowded together,'' Fedencia said.

``We may live like that when we are working throughout the country, or when we're living in labor camps. But we live that way out of necessity, not because we want to or because we're used to it.

``When we come home, we come to our nice homes and we continue putting some of the money we've earned to make our homes even better.''


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