Oral History

Narrator: Guadalupe Escobedo

Interviewer: Donna Sinclair
Place: Umatilla, Oregon
Date: November 18, 1999

Guadalupe Escobedo was born in San Francisco, CA, Jan. 5, 1965. Her family came to Umatilla after her father saw the town when helping her cousin move to Umatilla from Santa Cruz. The family moved to the area also when she was fourteen years old. She was among the first Latinos in the area, attending Umatilla High School when there were only four or five Latinos. Both of her parents worked in the food processing industry and as a teen she worked in the fields during the summer and on weekends. School was always a top priority and Guadalupe now has a masters degree and teaches first grade in the Hermiston public schools.

[Tape 1 of 1, Side A]

DS: What did you find different from San Francisco?

GE: Everything! [laughs Ė lived in a nice part of town in SF, but had to use public transportation. Couldnít go out at night.]

And to come here and see everything so calm and peaceful. It was different.

DS: Did you like it?

GE: Until I learned how to drive it was. It got better. . . the first couple of years that we were here, it was school bus, home, bus, home, to school, school to home, and just grocery shopping maybe. . .

DS: What kind of work did your father do?

GE: He worked at Simplot, in the processing plant. He started off as a forklift driver, and then he changed different jobs there until he retired. My mom worked there also. It was amazing because they got here and a week after, they got a job. Full time jobs. It was nice. Double pay, double the amount they were earning in San Francisco. . . [Her uncles] would come just during the harvest time, and then about this time, just as soon as the potato season was over, harvest was over, theyíd go back to Mexico, and then come back in maybe late spring or something, and start planting and other things that they did. Weeding the beets. I hear a lot about beets and onions and all the stuff they do.

DS: How did your family come to the United States, or your father and your mother?

GE: My father, he was one of those that would come with the Bracero Program. He was in that, and after they stopped that he would come over illegally. And then finally, I donít know who it was that finally got their papers and convinced them to start getting theirs, to apply for residency. So they did, he applied for residency, and then he put in an application for my mom. So I think she was the first in her family, of her sisters, to come over without being in danger of crossing the border. She came over legally. So they lived in San Francisco, and they were there, I think sixteen years, and then they moved up here. . .

DS: You still hear stories about that [illegal migration]?

GE: They were there legally, and they were I think of the few. Because a lot of my uncles didnít get their documents in order until recently, in í87. When they did the amnesty laws, a lot of them finally got into filling out the papers. Okay.

DS: Was there a lot of worry in the family about that? [getting papers]

GE: Oh yeah! I was so lucky that when we got here, I think Iíve only seen the immigration officers maybe twice if at all. And I hear stories that they used to live out in the fields for a week at a time because the immigration officers were at the bridge or they were at the stores, or they were somewhere else. I didnít have to live through that or worry that my uncle would be gone tomorrow or something. Weíve been blessed that Ė we came and we havenít seen them Ė very much. . . and I was born in the United States. . . . I remember one time I was working out at Agri-Northwest, and my boyfriend I knew didnít have papers. Someone said, "Immigrationís here!"

And I went, "Oh no, I hope he doesnít get caught!" Just things you lived with.

DS: So you worked for Agri-Northwest too?

GE: When we first got here, that first summer, I just babysat. The next summer I did, I worked at different fields. I worked with watermelon, weeded watermelon, weeded carrots, weeded onions. I worked, my most interesting job was, we had to fake our age. We had to say we were eighteen and we were only sixteen, at one of the packaging plants in Boardman. . . [someone questioned them about their ages Ė she and her cousin. They were able to keep working. They put in long hours and received good pay]

DS: What kind of work did you do?

GE: I worked on the machine that had the plastic bags for the potatoes, that goes around. I was like a weight checker, and I operated the machine at times and at times I stapled the bags, and I sorted potatoes. The hardest was when I had to get used to the line, the belts moving. I would get sick a lot on those. . . having to look at it. . . motion sickness really bad. One time, at that plant the first day I worked, I got so bad. I was following the conveyer belt so many times that I just fell. I fell down, and they picked me up and I woke up and it was like, "What went wrong? Why are you here?"

"You fell!" . . . [realized she fainted]

DS: What kind of work did you do in the fields?

GE: We weeded watermelon with a hoe, you know. We walked down the rows of watermelon fields and, with a hoe and trying not to pull out the watermelon, doing the best you can. . . and we weeded carrot fields, walking down the fields also, just pulling weeds, and wheat fields, and onion fields. We did a couple of onion fields.

DS: Did you find? I talked to someone today who said that a lot of women worked in the onion fields. Was that your experience?

GE: Um-hum, yeah there were a lot of us. My aunts, my cousins, there was a lot of work. But the weeding part was because you have to be bending down and pulling, in the hot sun and.

DS: For how many hours a day did you do that?

GE: We did it for at least, it was either ten to twelve hours. We did it mostly in. The cleaning onions I didnít do for very long because we only did it for weekends because we were still in school. So my dad would only let us go on the weekends. We did that a couple weeks, but mostly it was cleaning fields and weeding fields. Which was okay for the times because when youíre walking with a group of people you hear, you know jokes, you tell stories, you sing. It was cool.

DS: How long did you do that for? Because youíre a teacher now, right?

GE: Yeah, Iím a teacher now, but I did it all through high school. Because after high school I got a job at Hermiston Potato during that summer. . . and then I went to college in Sacramento and I studied office work and office assistant. And I came back and I worked for three years at Hermiston Community Health Clinic as a billing clerk there. . . [after about three years] I decided that I wanted to go into teaching because I was doing catechism classes and I liked it, I liked the feeling of teaching kids and talking to kids and being around them, and so a comadre of mine was talking to me about teaching too. So I finally took the step and resigned from there, applied for college. [during a lapse of time between quitting and starting school, she worked at Agri-Northwest]

. . . the ten wheel trucks would dump the potato into this bin, and so I would have to take a sample of the potatoes and see how bruised they were or how rotten or how, a sample of the whole load and put it out and make the ticket for it. And give the ticket to the semi-driver that was getting filled up on the potatoes. That was my first experience with CB radios. I had to call the lady and let her know what trucks were on the way. She said, "Is that a kid on the CB?"


. . . and after that I went back to college, at Blue Mountain. [also worked at the Good Shepherd Hospital, then went to school in LaGrande to study full time]

. . . I worked for the migrant program for a year doing a preschool liaison job. I worked with preschool kids in their homes, and at Headstart too. . .

DS: Can you tell me a little bit about the migrant program?

GE: . . . It has teachers that work in the schools, helping students learn English, and get better in their studies. To apply for the migrant program you have to have moved from one place to another seeking work in agriculture, or fish, or I think itís lumber too. But mostly around here itís because you came to work in something in agriculture. I went around, I did some of the qualifying people. "When did you move?" and "Why did you move?" and "What kind of jobs have you been looking for?"

DS: Did you find that people were having a hard time finding work or that it was pretty easy to find work in this area?

GE: . . . I think it got a lot harder when they started asking you for documentation. Checking your documentation. I hear a lot now that itís harder because they check your documents. Well if you donít have them, what can they check.

[says itís harder for illegals to find employment now]

. . . I donít know if they get around it or how they get around it. But it is harder than it was back then. Back then it wasnít as difficult. It was just more watching out for if the immigration is here or not, or if theyíre coming or not. Thatís what I used to hear a lot more. Now itís not that way.

DS: Do you think the conditions are any better than they were then?

GE: . . . I donít know if itís better because I havenít worked out there, but what I have from my family sources, I donít think theyíre any safer. Because those chemicals are still being used. I hear that they do try not to have them in the fields when theyíre spraying. So, thatís better! But you know, if they spray and theyíre still in there after. . . a couple of days or a couple of weeks, the chemicals still there.

DS: What about wages?

GE: . . . For a family it was hard. Yeah, the wages have gotten better, but the cost of living has also gone up, so I think it comes hand in hand. If they didnít raise the price of bread, if they didnít raise the price of what your daily supplies are, then it would be excellent money. I donít think its gotten a whole bunch better because everythingís gone up as well.

[when the family came to Umatilla, they moved into the house she currently lives in with her mother. Describes the first time she saw the house in Umatilla. Describes the house in San Francisco. They were able to sell the house there and be debt free]

It raised our standard of living a lot, because we used to go like, my mom, I think until I was twelve my mom made all my clothes, or we got them like at Goodwill, the second-hand shops sometimes. Except for shoes and other necessities. . . we were lucky too because we were a small family and it was only my brother and I, and anytime we went to the store, it was "itís my turn to buy something now." . . . they could provide for us. And they provided a lot more when we moved up here because they had more to give. And that was something that my parents always stressed was that they wanted to give us a better life than they had. They have and they did.

[parents came from Michoacan, a mountainous area on the border with Jalisco. GE visits family in Mexico; is preparing to go at Christmastime]

DS: Was there a real emphasis on education from your family?

GE: Oh yeah. He always wanted us to study, to learn, and he knew that education was the way out of getting out of the field work, out of the hard labor work. He stressed, and my mom did too, that education was first, and work and the other stuff was their job. And they would do their best to provide. And they did and as I got older and started college and stuff, they said, "This is the only inheritance I can give you. You wonít get anything else because I donít know what else Iíll make. But for sure this is something you canít squander. . . itís something youíre going to keep, and itís going to be good for you."

[talks about how her mother worries for her about things like layoffs]

She worries a lot about making sure we have what we need. She doesnít care about having a whole bunch, just to live on to be okay. . .

[talks about family]

DS: What grade are you teaching?

GE: I teach first grade.

DS: Do you do bilingual education at all?

GE: Not a curriculum per say. . . the first year I taught first grade I spoke a lot of Spanish to my students, just because I think I knew a lot of them through preschool. And so I spoke a lot Spanish and by the middle of the year. . . sometime in March, I think it was. We were talking and someone said, someone told me, "You gotta start speaking more English to these kids because theyíre all still responding in Spanish. Because next year nobodyís going to speak Spanish to them."

"Alright." So after that I started speaking. I give all my instruction in English, and then a condensed version of it in Spanish. And then I say it again in English, so they hear it twice in English, once in Spanish.

DS: Have you found that successful in helping them to transition?

GE: Oh, yeah. I just see it as a lot more helpful in them feeling more confident because they wonít feel like, oh my gosh, she doesnít know what Iím going to say or what I need. And I think that only that class has done that. Because all the other classes. I remember, and I speak to them in Spanish and they answer back in English. Maybe itís just that class then that didnít want to leave their Spanish behind at all.

DS: What percentage of the kids would you say are Latino?

GE: In my class or in the school?

DS: Well, both.

GE: I think itís the same, about fifty-fifty.

DS: Really?

GE: Yeah, I have twenty-two students, and twelve are Latino. [says she thinks the census data for the school is the same]

DS: So then the other kids are learning Spanish too?

GE: Some of them do, yeah. And some of them, "I donít want to learn Spanish!"

"Oh, come on. You donít have to learn it. You just have to listen while I speak. Please be polite." That has been an experience, having to encounter them and make them feel itís okay.

One of them goes, "You speak Spanish. Oh! You speak English. Oh!"

DS: Are any of the other teachers bilingual in your school?

[End Side A, Tape 1 of 1]

[Begin Side B, Tape 1 of 1]

GE: . . . The kindergarten teachers do their best to speak and include things in Spanish. The teacher that does the First/Second blend, a classroom with first graders and second graders in it, sheís bilingual. One of the fifth grade teachers is bilingual, and the other two kind of understand it. The fourth grade teachers, I donít think any of them are bilingual. Third grade teachers, a couple of them are bilingual, and I think thatís it. . .

DS: Are there any other Latino teachers at your school?

GE: . . . I donít think so. No, uh-huh. There are a lot of, the assistants in the migrant program, in the ELAP (English Language Acquisition Program Ė the Migrant Program Ė a transitional program; preschool, K-12, and home liaison people to assist students with social services, translations for the school.) program are of Hispanic descent, or Mexican. Thereís one I think that sheís from El Salvador.

DS: . . . Is that the case a lot of the time, that there are a lot of kids that are working rather than going to school?

GE: Yeah, thereís a great number of young adults that, if they could be in college would be a lot better [off]. But theyíre up here trying to earn money for their families. So thereís not the chance to go to college or better your life. Youíre trying to make ends meet. Like my cousin, he just turned eighteen and he had to be pulled out of school for a week to help offset the expenses because his mom had to go to California for a week. So he got pulled out of school for a week, and now they want to, his older brother wants to pull him more toward work. Itís like, "No! Heís here to go to school. After he goes to school and gets his diploma, he can decide what heís going to do. Right now he has to go to school." . . . Sometimes he gets discouraged and goes, "Oh, Iíve been here a year. I donít know English yet."

"Itís okay. Itíll take some time."

DS: Where did he come from?

GE: He came from Michoacan. Theyíre the family of my momís sisters. Sheís the next to the youngest of the daughters and the aunts, and so she brought all the family. She just, my mom put in the application for her to get her residency when they were. Actually, I think he was like six or something. Six or eight.

DS: How long did it take?

GE: Ten years. My mom had just become a citizen, and so she filled out the paperwork for them and it took ten years. They told her, ten years, and sheíll get her appointment. And yep, ten years! Thatís a long time. But sheís here. . . [all her sisters have their visas now. Only one with a husband who doesnít have papers. Another sister comes and works, but her husband stays in Mexico]

DS: What is the draw to come here. Now?

GE: Why would you want to come?

DS: Why would you want to come, and leave your home. I understand the work. . .

GE: Stability. Stability to know that if you have your papers and you can get a stable job.

DS: Because there arenít stable jobs.

GE: Uh-huh, in Mexico. At least not that I know of.

DS: So people are struggling there?

GE: Yeah, because I donít think. I hear a lot that they go down there for these months and know that when they come up, theyíll work to pay off whatever they left owing. And then hopefully make enough to go back and do it all over again. And then here, if they stay, if they have documentation and they stay, they try to earn enough to. More now they are thinking about buying a home, buying a place instead of just renting a place.

DS: So do you think thatís why people are staying more now? Because once they get the documentation they can get the stability?

GE: Uh-huh. They get stability, and if they have children, their focus is on their children, whatís best for them. Is this a safe place? Are they learning, are they going to have an opportunity to learn? School. Because my, I have a cousin that just brought his family up, I believe in August. So they started the school year. And theyíre not going to Mexico, even though he would, I mean he could take them down there. He said no, he was for staying because theyíre in school, and theyíre going to. "You have to learn, you have to learn English so you can get better and have a better life. I donít want you to work like I am." You know, itís that wanting to get out of the cycle of hard labor work. . . and the education is going to get you out of there.

DS: So you must be quite a success in your family?

GE: Oh, um-hum. Yeah, I get a lot of responsibility with that. Still I feel good about knowing that my family feels proud that Iím a teacher, that I graduated. A while there it was like I graduated from one college, and then I graduated from BMCC, and then I graduated from La Grande, and then I got my masterís. [laughs]

DS: Oh, did you get your masters too? Good for you.

GE: Itís like, "So, is this your last graduation?" Yes, it is. Because we always had a party. . .

DS: So what kind of responsibility comes along with having the education?

GE: . . . Helping out, you know, if they have. You know if they hear something on TV about it. Like this new millennium thing. "So what do you think about the millennium?"

"Donít worry about it. God will know." Be careful, keep your statements on hand. Know where your papers are, and hopefully nothing will happen. . . [she handles family questions about medical information, interpreting, filling out forms. Her brother always handled legal issues. Talks about her brother Ė he had business sense. Always told her she was a permanent student].

DS: So you have responsibility to motivate everyone else to do this.

GE: Yeah, and I have nieces and stuff that have graduated from school and from college too, that I feel so happy about because they, theyíre younger than I am, so I think I was a role model for them.

DS: Because you were the first one, right?

GE: Yeah. I was the first one. From my cousins around here, yeah. . .

DS: . . . You told me before that when you first got here, that there were only like six or seven Hispanic students.

GE: Uh-huh. At the high school.

DS: What was that like. Did you experience, did you have friends who were white? Did you experience prejudice? I mean what was that like to be one of six or seven Hispanic students at that time?

GE: I think, I think because the three of us that were girls, we were family. So it was like going to school with my sister, letís say. We were real tight. You know, wherever one of them went, the other one went, and we followed each other around like that. We had maybe three friends that were Anglo, and a couple of the other girls that were nice, you know, theyíd say hi once in a while. And then there were a group of girls that, I would say, looked down upon us because thatís just the feeling you got when they looked at you. And guy-wise, we really didnít pay attention to them because, I think just because we knew that we were Hispanics and theyíd never talk to us, and so, you know like, to say. I could never say that in the four years that I was in high school in Umatilla, one of the Anglo boys asked me out. They never asked me out. . . and then we didnít really know what, like what homecoming was, and all the things I know now, I wish I would have known then, it would have been a lot better. . . [says her parents would have let her attend dances because they were school-related. If it wasnít school-related, no way!]

. . . to go to a dance, I would have to be with my cousins and one of them would have had to be a male cousin that was older, watching over us. But school functions, they would always let us go to, but we didnít know what those school functions were about, so we never went to them. . . [went to prom her junior year, but went with her cousin. One of her female cousins eloped, leaving only the two girls. Through high school about five more Hispanic girls came to the school. There were still only two or three boys].

DS: So, did you not date during high school?

GE: No. I dated, but they werenít the kids from school. It was mostly the guys we met when we went to work, when we worked in the fields or the guys we met at church. Or the guys we met at a dance. Weíd go to a dance or weíd go to something and we met different guys, but they werenít from school. . . [says she think there is still a separation between groups. "I donít think they really intermix," based on who her cousins or their kids are dating. At the most two or three are dating Anglos]

. . . They have a bigger pool. You know, they have more Hispanic students, so they date Hispanic boys and girls. Where, we were more or less dating, almost men you could say because they were eighteen or nineteen, and we were fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. . . But my parents didnít know about it, so that was hard. [tells a story about almost getting caught talking to older boys]

DS: How would you say that the community has changed the most since youíve been here?

GE: Thereís more Hispanics! [laughs] Thereís more Hispanics, there are more people that are, Iíd say, willing to accept them, although thereís still that group of people, that wonít. And I got that shock to that just this last Round-up, when they did the Round-up Parade. I took my cousins and my nephews down to see it, and we were sitting there looking at the parade, enjoying ourselves, and I was speaking Spanish to them and this lady just said something rude, like, "I wish they wouldnít do that," or something like that.

And then the other lady said, "Well, youíve gotta get used to them being around because there are a lot more of them around now than there used to be."

I thought, "Theyíre talking about me." And so I started speaking in English to the kids, and they stopped talking.

[DS asks whether she thinks bilingual education should be the norm. GE says she supplements with Spanish to meet the needs of the children, but itís not formally bilingual education because everything is still in English]

GE: . . . We do a program where first and second grade learn to read in Spanish first so they can transfer their skills into English, because thatís the best way to learn to read. . . they already know, like when they read "apple," they already know what "apple" is in Spanish. And if you changed it and had them read "apple" in English, they wouldnít have any idea what "apple" is in English. It would be learning all over again, everything. And so that way they have a base, and they can transfer it when they learn to read in English. Which I have found is much better. Although itís harder on the other teachers and itís harder on our test scores, to see that. Because to the teachers, theyíre behind.

When they get to third grade, "Oh, theyíre behind." But theyíre not really. Itís just that they have to transfer it over, and we just have to be patient with it, and unfortunately test scores or State scores might not make up for our demographics.

DS: How do you think that turns out in the long-term for the kids? Being assigned those test scores, and for the school.

GE: I think itís harder for us to, I wouldnít say defend, but. [pauses] We know what weíre doing is right for them, and thatís what we care about more. So what we have to do, we need to do and look at those scores as just that, theyíre not really behind. Theyíre just doing what they need to do to learn, but to learn the best that they can. And we keep pushing them, motivating them, not to learn, just because they learn English, not to forget their Spanish because itís such an important part later on when they get older that theyíll need to know.

DS: Is there any opposition from other educators in using those kinds of methods to teach these kids how to read?

GE: Not that Iíve heard, at least not in my building that Iíve heard. Theyíre all, theyíre supportive of the program. . . [sometimes itís hard for teacher to realize the kids do know how to read, even though they canít yet do it in English in the third grade]

. . . and especially if heís newly arrived and, so youíre struggling with that. I had a student that had just come from Mexico, and in Mexico he went to school maybe two months out of the whole year. And so, heís made a lot of progress. Just in Spanish, and just in writing and in math and things because heís been stable in school now. [says itís difficult for her sometimes to remember that some of the kids havenít been in school]

DS: For kids who come from Mexico when theyíre say, ten, are there programs like that for them too?

GE: No, they go straight into learning how to switch over to English because they should already know how to read in Spanish. If they didnít know how to read in Spanish they would probably go through it. . .

. . . Most of the families that I know, we speak English at school as much as you can, or between cousins a lot, and with your parents at home you speak Spanish. Church you go to Spanish Mass. . . we have three Spanish masses, and we have Spanish radio station, the Spanish TV channels, and satellites. A lot of people bought satellites so they could have the Spanish programming, the news and. . . Iíd like to see more books and more things in peopleís homes to be more literate in Spanish, but speaking it, speaking the language, a lot of kids do speak it at home. A very few stop when they get to school. . .

DS: Does that make it difficult sometimes to find jobs outside of agriculture or the service industry without a pretty strong educational background? . . . the fact that Spanish is still the primary language, do you think that makes it difficult to find employment? [tells story about witnessing discrimination at a McDonalds in Hood River]

GE: I think if you have an education and you find a job that fits your qualifications. Of course, if you donít have the qualifications to speak English well in any job that you apply for, then youíre probably not going to get it. And like you said, McDonalds would be one of those places that somebody that doesnít have a very good vocabulary, or maybe has a strong accent, would be able to get a job. Maybe the other lady had her own accent. You know because there are some Anglo people that [are hard to understand] . . . the Spanish that you learn in a textbook is very different than the Spanish thatís spoken where you live, and here we have a larger population of people from Mexico. So a lot of the things are Mexicanisms and things that we know in Mexico. We go to the south, like in Texas, a lot of the things that are the way they speak. . .

[Interview ends]

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