BOARDMAN, Ore. _ For the past 35 years, Raul and Maria Elena Martinez and their family have traveled to the Pacific Northwest to harvest crops.
The family has never had difficulty finding field work _ indeed, employers have urged them to make a permanent move to the Northwest, where work is plentiful. Yet the family continues migrating on a yearly basis between temporary jobs and their home base of LaGrulla, Texas.
What keeps the Martinezes returning to this tiny town located in the southernmost tip of Texas, about three miles north of the Mexican border?
What keeps them continuously pulling their three youngest children out of school to travel from state to state, from crop to crop, bringing instability to their lives and, in many cases, causing their education to suffer?
When they are not working, how do they make ends meet? How do they survive the winter months feeding themselves and the five youngest of their 13 children?
Most importantly, what keeps drawing this family back to Texas?
During the next four to five months, the Martinezes will be living in LaGrulla, where they say they will be resting and preparing for next spring's asparagus harvest.
During this time, the Union-Bulletin will try to answer some questions about the life of migrant families and why they travel year after year in search of work.
One of the main reasons the Martinezes and other South Texas families migrate is because there are no steady jobs that pay well in that part of the country, they say. So they are forced to travel to survive.
Why are jobs limited in South Texas? Are U.S. factories setting up a few miles across the border in Mexico to capitalize on cheap labor? What are U.S. and state representatives doing to assist their constituents who make a living off of field labor?
Do the Texas educational system and Texas migrant agencies network with agencies in Washington state, Oregon and throughout the country in tracking and keeping abreast of migrants? And how do they prepare for next year's harvest and learn where there are crops to pick and money to earn?
The lives of migrant workers do not end when winter arrives, crops are harvested and they leave the communities in which they temporarily work. They pack their few possessions into trucks, and in minicaravans travel the all too familiar country roads to their home base, where they settle for a few months before returning to the fields when crops start sprouting.
And so for the next several months the Union-Bulletin, by taking a look at how the Martinez family and others live, will lend some understanding to why Walla Walla and other areas of the Northwest see an influx of migrant workers each spring.