Picking Grapes and Rolling Trays: Life as a migrant in Central California #2 – Transportation

We had an old ford F150 that was new at one time. I know it was new because my daddy bought it new. Surprised all of us that day, including mom! I however, only remember it as being old. This truck was not much but it was our means of getting to and from a place. The place was usually work, sometimes school (when we missed the bus). For the most part it was reliable, a gas guzzler, but reliable.

I guess you really can’t call us poor if we had a new truck. I never figured out how we were able to pay for that truck but we did. There were many in the valley that never had their own transportation; many farm workers were at the mercy of others for a ride to the town Foodland to cash their checks on Thursdays, for a ride to the Sunday flee market on Whitesbridge Road, and for a ride to work.

What a racket! The raiteros, people who gave rides, charged per trip. The charge usually was one days pay for the week of rides to work. Since, the field hands worked Monday through Saturday, A field hand worked Saturdays’ in order to pay for the rides. You do the math. The more you can pack into a van the more money the raiteros could make.

This leads to Tragedy

I do not remember if it was the semi truck that pulled off the side of the road and then began to make a U-turn or if it was the van that pulled off the side of the road and then began to make a u-turn. I guess I could do a search on Google and find out . . . After searching many phrases with the words agriculture, death, Helm, Fresno County, five points etc. I found the story I was searching for by putting this phrase in Google, “Fresno county farm workers deaths.”


Here is part of the text,

“…First on August 9, 1999, a van transporting 13 farm workers collided with a semi-truck near Five Points, a rural intersection in West Fresno County. All 13 workers died. Most of the victims rode on three bare benches in the back of the van. The workers were not wearing seatbelts.”

Imagine being in that van for the last seconds.

Radio is on, tuned in to Los Tucanes de Tijuana on Hoy en el Valle on the a.m. dial. It is just loud enough to cover up the snores from some of the 12 others. The driver is tired from being out late and having to wake up early. The smell of men, nicotine, and beans wrapped in flour tortillas fills the van. The clank of the metal head of the hoe hitting the bed of the van, the thump of the wooden poles striking against each other, and the swishing of the water in the 30 gallon igloo makes a constant beat that lulls the field hands into a somber mood. The high pitch sound of the Tucanes de Tijuana made even higher by a.m. radio, the snores, the wooden benches…

Field hand 1: Oye, ten ciudado. Saltaste la calle. (Hey, be careful. You missed the street)

Driver: Ya, calla no me molestes. (Shut up already, don’t bother me)

Field hand 2: Limpia su garganta. (clears his throat)

The water swishes louder … Tucanes de Tijuana…sons of mothers, boyfriends of girlfriends, grandsons, fathers far from their families in Oaxaca. What were their names?

Field hand 1: ¡Jesús, Dios…!

Fractions of a second last an eternity.

Driver: ¡Maria te quiero!

I still do not know which vehicle was making the u-turn.

 Links to website with pictures of life for migrants in Central California

Worth a little of your time: https://dbacon.igc.org/

Those of you from Kerman, CA: https://dbacon.igc.org/Imgrants/hermilo00.html

About the Author:
Juan Martinez  contributes regulary on Bukisa, an online community where you earn residual income by sharing your knowledge.  To syndicate this article click “republish article” located at the bottom.