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A Migrant Worker Describes the Hard Work in the Northwest

The following is an excerpt of an interview with Guadalupe Gamboa conducted by the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. Gamboa describes the difficult life of migrant farmworkers on the west coast that kept workers isolated and made it difficult for children to enroll in school or learn English.

I grew up my early years going from labor camp to labor camp. We would work in Washington cutting asparagus and then go and eventually we bought our own truck. [Then we would] get [in] our truck and drive down to Oregon to Willamette Valley and pick beans and then drive down to California and pick cotton with the big companies in California during the winter and then come back in the spring and follow the same routine. So as a child I grew up going from school to school, and the first grade I think I started while I was here in Washington in the spring and I flunked the first grade ‘cause I didn’t know any English, and there were no programs or anything to make up for the fact that you couldn’t understand what they were saying….

Most of the work at least the stoop labor was either by piece rate, like in the asparagus, or by the hour, and the wage never was more than the minimum wage. It was just the minimum wage all the time. There were no benefits and at that time farm workers didn’t have any unemployment or at least, in Washington, very few social services. So people worked, pooled their resources [and] tried to save money for periods when there was no employment. And it was hard work and there were a lot of indignities, because you could be fired at any time. There were no toilets in the fields or water provided for the workers. The worker basically had no say. So that’s the background—a lot of hard work [and] very low pay. If the grower didn’t like the work you were doing, he wouldn’t pay you and you’d be fired.

Source | "Guadalupe Gamboa," Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, 2003, http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/gGamboa_interview.htm
Creator | Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies
Interviewer | Trevor Griffey and Sharon Walker
Interviewee | Guadalupe Gamboa
Rights | Permission to use this document in HERB was obtained from Guadalupe Gamboa. 
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, “A Migrant Worker Describes the Hard Work in the Northwest,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed July 21, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/974.

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