Journey home begins soon

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BOARDMAN, Ore. _ Since early September, migrant families have been leaving the Northwest and returning home to Texas or Mexico.

Trucks loaded with personal belongings and packed to capacity with people were spotted in Hermiston, Umatilla and Irrigon, all located between seven and 12 miles east of here.

Maria Elena Martinez always found herself stopping to ask families where they were coming from and where they were heading to.

Most of the migrant families were on their way to Texas from the eastern coast of Washington. They all said that strawberry and raspberry fields were ruined because of severe rains. Instead of traveling to other parts of the country in search of work, they realized it would be best to return home and wait for next spring.

But for families in Boardman, work has been sufficient. Most migrant workers who come here are employed in the potato harvest and that work is not expected to be completed until mid-November.

In this area, the Martinez family is among the first to leave and return to Texas.

``I've been wanting to leave since September, but then Raul went and got that job picking apples,'' Maria Elena says almost bitterly.

``Well, last year we left in early October and then we were found ourselves bored in Texas without any money coming in,'' her husband responded. ``So this year I decided to stay here as long as we can, and if we can earn more money, that's even better for us.''

To try to give Raul a little push to get home soon, about two weeks ago Maria Elena started placing pictures of family members who are in Texas throughout the apartment. Included in those pictures are two new additions to the Martinez family who were born this spring while Raul and Maria Elena traveled to Washington and Oregon in search of field labor.

The fact that Raul has been able to obtain employment throughout October is one of the main reason the family hasn't left sooner, but another major factor is that he has been waiting for other families to leave so that a convoy can travel together down south.

The eldest of the Martinez children, Raul, Jr., and his wife and daughter, are expected to leave Boardman in mid-November upon completion of the potato harvest. So are other friends and relatives.

``I don't like for my sons to travel home alone because so many things have happen on the road,'' Raul said. ``When there are a lot of families traveling together, at least there are people to help each other out if something happens.''

But to wait until mid-November is a long haul for Raul and Maria Elena, so they decided to send for a son-in-law from Texas to met with them here and help with the driving. Their son-in-law, Cristobal Saenz, will be arriving by plane. Cristobal is a crew leader. This year he brought workers to the asparagus fields in Othello. He will use this trip to speak with the farmer regarding plans for next spring's asparagus harvest.

``He had to come up here and speak with the farmer anyway, so he wanted to wait until we were ready to leave so he could arrange to come up here and help us with the driving back home,'' Maria Elena said. ``It's hard for just Raul by himself, because I don't know how to drive and, of course, Jimmy and Billy can't help.''

The other families that will stay in Boardman are expected to travel to Texas in a large caravan in mid-November.

As the days get closer for the family to leave, all eyes and ears are on the weather forecast. Maria keeps talking about seeing her other children. Jimmy, 10, keeps mentioning playing with his friends when he gets home, and 7-year-old Billy asks every morning ``Is today our last day here?''

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