Oral History

Narrator: Francisco Torres
Interviewer: Jodi LaCoursiere
Place: Umatilla Museum and Historical Foundation
Date: April 3, 1999

Francisco Torres came to the United States in the 1970s, first to California and then to Hermiston. He has worked in the food processing and farming industry and is now the president of the Latin American Cultural Club. In the following interview, Francisco Torres describes his experience since the 1970s and the importance of education to Latino peoples in order to be successful.

FT: My name is Francisco Torres and my occupation is a mechanic on a farm. What else you want to know?

JL: We talked about your place of birth, and, okay.

FT: . . . In the state of Jalisco in Mexico.

JL: And you came to?

FT: I came to the states probably around 1973 in, was in L.A. for about a year or so, and then came to Hermiston in around 74.

JL: And, what jobs have you done?

FT: [sighs] Oh, what jobs have I done? Iíve done, uh, first of all I attended the Hermiston High School for a couple of years. Then after that I had my own business, had a mechanic shop. And then I worked for Lamb Weston for a few years, worked for Simplot for about a year or so. And after that I worked for Agri-Northwest and Iíve been with them for about sixteen years. So, mostly on the maintenance department that I worked for these different places.

JL: And the reason that you ended up in this area. You said your sister. . .

FT: My sister was from this area. Actually she was in the Tri-Cities before. [sound of bells Ė the door is opening at the Umatilla Museum]

What brought me to this area. My sister, like I mentioned, was living in Tri Cities, and then she got married and she moved to Hermiston. And so, at that time we were, I was already in California, in Los Angeles and my father and I, my sister asked us to move to Hermiston to be with her. So we came over here.

JL: We were talking about Agri-Northwest and the farm you work on, and you estimated that the employees might be 80% Hispanic. Eighty percent of the employees were Hispanic.

FT: At least where I work, I would say, well I donít know, maybe not 80 percent. But for sure 60 percent and probably higher are Hispanic, or Mexican people, that work on the farms as operators and laborers and mechanics and whatnot.

JL: And so the effect that the dams might have on your life. What would you consider the effect the dams have on your life?

FT: What do you mean? If they remove them?

JL: Well or just the fact that there are dams here, that what, would allow.

FT: Well, honestly I guess, I know that the farm gets the water from the river, and I know that the dam gets the water level high enough to acquire this water where theyíre getting the water now. Um, so I suppose if there were too, Iím not an engineer of course. I suppose if they were to do away with the dams, it would probably be, I donít know, I think it would be a pretty dry place. Or then right close to the river.

JL: And the Hispanic population that works on the farm? How many of them, are most of them permanent residents?

FT: At Agri-Northwest I think that you are required to be a permanent resident before, so you know, to get a job there. So yes, most everybody is a resident, not necessarily out of Oregon or Umatilla or Hermiston area, but Tri-Cities, in the Tri-Cities area also.

JL: Are most of them born in Mexico, you think?

FT: Oh, the biggest percentage, I would say yes. At least where I work. There is of course, you know people that were born here or, or there are. . .

JL: Are there any other things you can tell me about the Hispanic population of this area. What, um, what do you think the percentage is in this region, how, is there a kind of. Probably, are there many migrant workers in this area? Is there a hierarchy of the jobs at the farm, or, are they good jobs compared to what other workers like?

FT: Definitely the farm and agriculture is one where most of the Hispanic part of the community or the population work, a lot of times most, these people that come from Mexico are from farms that, of course like everybody else that comes here, are looking for a better life and whatnot. So, the question was whether it was a better job on the farm or was it a. . .

JL: I mean itís, itís, compared to working in a field or some of the other jobs that have been traditionally filled by Hispanic workers. Like in Walla Walla thereís a lot of field work.

FT: Well on the farm thatís what it is, itís mostly field work. Thereís very few, you know, there can only be so many mechanics and so many utility techs, and so for the most part, most of the people are working on the fields. On you know, operating tractors, or applying the sprinklers or, whatever the case may be.

JL: What do you think is the, as the population in this Hermiston, Umatilla area, what do you think is the percentage of Hispanic?

FT: I guess I donít know, but I would have to say that a good, I donít know, twenty percent. . . Just by looking at church, for example, thereís a lot of people and most of these people. Again theyíre not just people that come from Mexico, but people that were born here with maybe their parents being from Mexico, their grandparents. And so when I say twenty/twenty-five percent of the population Iím saying Hispanics, probably people that are, you know theyíre descendants from Mexico or other Latin countries.

JL: Do you think that the community is accepting and hospitable? Housing conditions and . . . ?

FT: Itís been, uh, I guess. Thatís a good question also. Iíve been blessed with always having a job and always having something to do. Iíve never been picking apples or planting onions by hand or doing things like that. So for me it has been perhaps different than some of these migrant workers that come from other areas. Iíve always been blessed with a home to go to. As far as the community or the town being friendly, to me, since Iíve been here, just about everybody that Iíve met have been friendly to me. So I cannot speak for everybody or what their experiences have been. But a lot of that has to do with what you make of yourself in that community. And so, everybody has, to me has been great. A couple of problems here and there, but you know [both laughing]. Pretty good.

JL: We had talked earlier and you told me that you are the chairman of the Latin American Cultural Club and that one of your primary goals was to provide scholarship money for Hispanic students, because you felt that [phone rings Ė pause]. Okay, so why do you feel that thereís a need for these scholarships for the Hispanic students? You said that thereís a lesser percentage that goes on to college.

FT: In the Hispanic part of the population. I donít like to refer as the Spanish community because I believe that a town is, a community as a whole is one, and so the part of the community that is Hispanic, you know they tend to not be, donít have a profession. Therefore the moneyís limited so Mom and Dad have to work, and Iím sure thatís true on the Anglo community also, on some families. But I see a lot of that on the Hispanic part of the community where Mom and Dad have to work and of course the kids you know, a lot of times get in trouble doing other things. And so yeah, when they go to school, they tend to try to go to work to help around the house with money to provide for the payments around the house, and not go to school. That was part of my life too, that I had to, I didnít have to, I chose to, uh, to work. And to try to help my dad and provide for the family. And I wish I could have stayed in school and be an attorney perhaps or something else where I could help people. And I want to be part of helping other people have a choice. Be, have the freedom to have choices. A lot of these choices sometimes we create ourselves. When we are young we donít look at choices. We just want to do what we want to do. However if there is other alternatives such as going to school, and if we can get these kids to go to school, maybe to get them started, to give them that push, that initial step, maybe they can go to school and become part of the leadership in wherever they may go, so they can take care of the needs of the cities or the needs of the towns or the states, wherever they may go.

JL: So even if there is a Hispanic family that has enough money, is there a sense of tradition that encourages education, or um, I mean, in Mexico is it, are there traditions that they do want to get an education if they can afford it?

FT: Itís about the same. Most of the people that came here whenever, a long time ago or just recently, are people that were suffering over there, they didnít make enough money, whatever. So they are looking for the American dream, and uh. In Mexico everybody wants to go to school, but you know we have teachers in the United States, Mexican teachers that graduated, theyíre actually teachers and theyíre working on the fields. People that have a profession and theyíre working on the fields because theyíre making more money working on the farms and the fields than they were down in Mexico. And so, itís, over here a lot of the students donít, they donít want to. Maybe, thatís not the right. They want to maybe, then they canít because they canít afford college. And so, I forgot the question already.

JL: You just feel like it is an important.

FT: Of course.

JL: There are a lot of Anglo families that donít consider education important. Even if they could afford it, they might not. So thatís what I mean by tradition.

FT: No, I think. Itís always simple, and I think everybody.

JL: Everybody understands that?

FT: Understands that itís important for the education. But back again, a lot of times. Most of the time everybody has to work to pay for the rent and pay for this and pay for that because they donít make, you know, enough. So the, if the son gets out of high school he has to go to work. So I just think that education is the key, whether they become a professional in whatever they choose to be. And then later they want to go work in the field thatís great for them.

JL: You said earlier about leaving Mexico and coming to the United States for a better life.

FT: Um-hum.

JL: Is it really? Or is it just a perception?

FT: Itís, itís better as far as the money is concerned.

JL: But moneyís not.

FT: No, itís not everything; however, for people that lack money, I guess is, money for buying food, for buying this or buying that, for meeting their needs, you know money is very important in that aspect. Out here, I think weíre spoiled. I, I mean we because Iíve been here for such a long time that I consider, in Hermiston, United States I think weíre spoiled. We have color TVs, we have computers, we have cars, and we have no idea a lot of times what other people are doing or what their needs are. And a lot of people say, "Well itís not our business." Well that is true, but when you donít have, when you lack the means to provide for your family, having some money makes a difference. And so itís good in that part. However I think itís bad because you become a happy slave of work. [this section is a good audio section]

For example, and I said a happy slave because you work a lot of hours, however you are getting paid. And so, you become a slave of your own work. Not because they make you work or because the rather.

JL: Youíd rather have that money

FT: Mmm, the money and the obligation of course, depending on the job that you have. In the farming, of course itís, we need to get this thing going and we need to plant it and we need to harvest it and whatnot. But yeah, you become a workaholic type of a thing. And so, I know guys who work ninety hours a week during these busy times of the year. And Iím sure that that is true not just of the Mexican group, but in the Anglo group also that works on the farms. Not, maybe not on the plants and other works, but uh, at the farm thatís the way life is and.

JL: So youíre maybe losing. Do you lose? What do you lose by living in the United States? Are there. . . ?

FT: You, a lot of times, in the long run you lose a little bit of tradition. You tend to go more to the independent. Your family all of the sudden is not as close as it was. Even though youíre a better provider, youíre not as close as perhaps you were when you didnít have. Thatís what I see, you know, Iím not. In my view you know I, Iím involved in a lot of things and I feel that I donít spend a lot of time with my family. And Iím just looking at that and I say, I wonder how many people have to work that much, not necessarily on community events and whatnot, but just that work, so they can provide comfortably for their family.

JL: Are there a lot of workers on the farm that still have close ties to Mexico and family there and do they provide financial support to family members that are still there? And I think, donít some of them go during the winter break, go home or back for a while?

FT: I, thereís a lot of people that go back and visit. And you know itís always this like traditionally I think everybody that comes from outside the country um, they always have an idea they are going to come back home, just wherever they come from. However, I think a lot of people go back and see how things are over there. "Well, I think home is Hermiston or home is Umatilla instead." And so it makes them appreciate more of what they have here.

JL: So Guadalajara being a modern city, thereís still a lot of difference, disparity between the haves and the have-nots, the high income and the low-income.

FT: I, I visited Guadalajara two years in a row, kind of just like a week. So Iím not, even though I was born there on that area, and I was only in that area for about two or three years of my life. And whenever I go visit relatives or whatnot, and I mean two or three years because I was raised in a different state in Mexico. But, itís just like any big city. Thereís a lot of lack of work, of course, that the economic situation is way different over there. You donít make near as much money. I have a cousin that is a doctor. Heís a gynecologist, and I make more money than he does. And you know, Iím just a mechanic. So yeah, itís the economic part of, of Mexico and here is way different.

JL: Heís comfortable in what heís doing.

FT: Obviously you know being a doctor and spending a lot of time on his career he would like to make more, but over there I think thatís, unless he becomes a big shot, I guess.

JL: Have you seen many changes in this area in the time that youíve been here?

FT: Oh yeah, as far as growth. Definitely. At least the.

JL: And the effects on the growth of the Hispanic community, if weíre focusing on that issue or, the growth of the Hispanic community, or has it stayed pretty stable or?

FT: Itís been. Thereís a lot more people now than when I first came here. I mean when I first came here, there was only like, I donít know, six families maybe. When I went to high school, nobody spoke Spanish. That was a quite interesting deal, but since then you know thereís, if you go to a school youíll see a lot of little kids, Hispanic little kids, or theyíre probably American kids now, but their parents are probably from Mexico and whatnot, or from different Latin countries. Yeah, as far as the population has grown quite a bit since Iíve been here.

JL: Okay. Thank you.

[Interview Ends]

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