Lack of knowledge perpetuates 'migrant' stigma


BOARDMAN, Ore. _ There is a certain stigma attached to the words ``migrant worker,'' a stigma that in many cases has arisen from misconceptions, misinformation or lack of knowledge.

When a community that is predominantly Caucasian is faced with a group of people who are different not only in color but also in language and in culture, difficulties may arise.

In order for both groups to get along, an understanding must first be established. The community is not only dealing with a group of people who have a different lifestyle, but also a group of people who have a different culture, a different way of thinking.

First, migrant workers who come to the Pacific Northwest year after year in search of farm work are primarily of Hispanic origin. Whether that be from Mexico, Central America or South America MDRV_ or they are U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. So it's important to understand the Hispanic lifestyle.

The major difference between both cultures is family unity. In Hispanic households, female children remain in the house of their parents until they are married. When the women marry, they live with their in-laws. Therefore, the number of people living under that one roof expands.

Large families are also traditional among Hispanics, especially among Hispanic migrants.

Take, for example, the Martinez family from LaGrulla, Texas. There are 13 children in the family. Their mother, Maria Elena Martinez, said she had a large number of children because that means more household income once the children are old enough to work _ which is usually at the age of 10. Maria Elena, 53, also said she had lots of children so she would have someone to look after her and her husband once they are older, or if they are sick. ``I don't want to be put in a nursing home,'' she said.

It is also common for the older children to stay at home and look after the younger ones while the parents are at work.

Hispanic migrant families are a closely united group because they are all they have. It's hard for people to establish any type of relationships with other people when they are never in one place long enough. Therefore, the relationships they do establish are within their own group.

Often times when they marry, they will marry other migrants, so that cycle never ends.

They are also quick to lend a helping hand to other migrant families. It is not uncommon to share food, clothes or even housing.

In a migrant household, when one member of the family comes home with a sack of potatoes, tomatoes, apples or onions, it is equally shared with other families that live nearby.

And if someone has no place to sleep, someone will always open her door even if that household is already crowded with people.

``You always have to think of others who have less than you do,'' Maria Elena says. ``We may be poor, but we have a lot more than other people, so we share what we do have.''

Migrant people are a proud people and a conscientious people as well. They are careful to purchase only what they need because of a lack of money. Yet, should an emergency arise and things have to be bought on credit, they never forget their debts.

This year, the Martinezes have been paying off bills that accumulated in 1990. Various emergencies arose last year, including the need for medical care and to buy four tires for their truck. This year they have been receiving notices from collection agencies.

``We know we're late in our payments, but what can we do when we have no money?'' Raul Martinez, 62, asked. ``I hate to owe anywhere, but the only thing I can do is work and pay off those bills a little at a time.''

``They may not get their money immediately, but we never forget where we owe and we will make sure we pay off our bills,'' Maria Elena said.

A few weeks ago, the family drove into Pendleton and handed over about $50 to the collection agency, the final payment on their bills. One perception in the community is that it's typical for Hispanic men to talk among themselves while sitting on the front lawn or gathering around a car or truck, looking under the hood. When money is scarce, and mechanics are expensive, they try to find ways of fixing the cars themselves. This is the time they usually discuss such topics as work, family and the high cost of living _ a way of unwinding, or relaxing over a cold beer. The women are usually inside cooking, sharing recipes or talking about children. Since money is scarce, it is very rare for the children to enjoy a day out at the theater, or at the mall or even at a school athletic activity. What they do is find ways of entertaining themselves at home with their relatives or friends. With a little understanding of differences in culture and lifestyle, one can understand why these people live in crowded conditions under one roof, why they may be seen standing around a car drinking beer or why they have so many children.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in