FACES FROM THE FIELD: Free event Sunday will highlight farmworkers

Antonio Mendoza, 53, has worked in the Vale fields for 14 years. He works with sugar beets, corn, alfalfa – “a little bit of everything,” he said. Before that he worked in other states including Florida and Arizona. “I like the work I do. I’ve been doing it for many years. I know that we don’t all have the same opinion, but I like being outdoors.”

Antonio Mendoza, 53, ha trabajado en los campos de Vale por 14 años. Trabaja con los betabeles, el elote, alfalfa – “un poco de todo,” dice Mendoza. También ha trabajado en otros estados como la Florida y Arizona. “Me gusta el trabajo que hago. Tengo muchos años haciéndolo. Yo se que no todos opinamos lo mismo pero me gusta andar en aire libre.”

ONTARIO – Drive down Highways 20 and 201 and you’ll see them.

Out in the fields, men, women and children tend the crops like anonymous moving dots.

To shine a light on field workers and their contributions, the Oregon Human Development Corp. is putting on a free event Sunday, Aug. 25.

From 2 to 8 p.m. at Lions Park, the organization invites the community to join them for free food, games, raffles and live music.

Now in its third year, the event helps mark National Farmworker Appreciation Day, which takes place Aug. 6 each year.

It’s an event that’s dear to Jaime Valero. Valero, workforce consultant at the organization, worked in the fields after school starting in seventh grade.

Farmworkers’ contributions to the community extend beyond the field, he said, and the work they do deserves appreciation. 

“It’s how everybody eats. Onions are a big cash crop here and the workers make money and then use that money in this area,” said Valero.

There were an estimated 4,567 migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Malheur County – the seventh highest in the state – in 2018 according to data from Oregon State University.


Maria Pérez, 38, has tended the fields in Vale for 15 years. “I can’t find other work. I’d like to be away from the sun, the dirt and the chemicals. But it’s an honest job so I’m here,” she said. “More than anything I wish people knew that immigrants come here to do a hard job and I wish they’d give us a chance, an opportunity.”

María Pérez, 38, ha trabajado en los campos de Vale por 15 años. “No se me da otra cosa. Quisiera no estar en el sol, el lodo, y los químicos. Pero es trabajo digno así que aquí estoy,” dijo Pérez. “Más que nada quisiera que supieran que los inmigrantes vienen a hacer un trabajo duro y que nos dieran un chance, una oportunidad.”

Juan Méndez, 62, has worked in the fields in the Treasure Valley since he was a 14-year-old schoolboy in Ontario. He graduated from Ontario High School in 1974. Méndez said he likes working outdoors, but it’s hard work and it’s not for everyone. “Sometimes your body’s not ready and you even start shaking. You have to take care of yourself,” said Méndez. He has six kids and when they were younger he brought them out to the fields and told them “Look, this is what you’re going to be doing if you don’t pay attention in school.” One son who graduated college now calls him from Portland and remarks that he’s making more than Méndez and his wife make combined. “Appreciate what we [farmworkers] do because this work won’t be around for long because people no longer want to come do it,” said Méndez.

Juan Méndez, 62, ha trabajado en los campos de Treasure Valley desde que era estudiante en Ontario con 14 años. Se graduó de la escuela secundaria en Ontario en el 1974. A Méndez le gusta trabajar al aire libre, pero es trabajo duro y no es para todo el mundo, dice. “Hay veces que el cuerpo no está listo y hasta tiemblas. Tiene que cuidarse uno.” Méndez tiene seis hijos y cuando eran pequeños los traía al campo y les decía: “Mira, esto es lo que vas a hacer si no pones atención en la escuela.” Uno de sus hijos que ya se graduó de la universidad lo llama desde Portland y le cuenta que está ganando mas de lo que ganan su madre y su padre juntos. “Aprecien lo que hacemos porque este trabajo ya no va a haber porque la gente ya no quiere venir,” dijo Méndez.

Candelaria León has worked in the fields for three years. Aug. 22 will mark the 13th year since she bought her home in Ontario.

Candelaria León, 55, ha trabajado en los campos por tres temporadas. El 22 de agosto marca 13 años desde que compró su casa en Ontario.

Adolfo Nuñez, 68, has worked the fields in Nyssa and the surrounding area for six years.

Adolfo Nuñez, 68, ha trabajado en los campos de Nyssa y sus alrededores por seis años.

Ignacio Ponce, 53, has worked in Vale for six years. “Farmwork is what sustains and feeds us. It’s hard beause of the heat and because of what we endure, but it’s a beautiful job.” Ponce enjoys working with irrigation because when done correctly, it helps conserve water.

Ignacio Ponce, 53, ha trabajado en Vale por seis años. “El campo es lo que nos sostiene y nos alimenta. Es duro por el calor y por lo que uno sostiene pero es un trabajo muy bonito.” Lo que más le gusta es el trabajo de irrigación porque ayuda a conservar agua.

Interviews, photos and Spanish translations by Yadira Lopez of the Malheur Enterprise: 541-473-3377 or [email protected].

For the latest news, follow the Enterprise on Facebook and Twitter.

SUBSCRIBE TO HELP PRODUCE VITAL REPORTING — For $5 a month, you get breaking news alerts, emailed newsletters and around-the-clock access to our stories. We depend on subscribers to pay for in-depth, accurate news produced by a professional and highly trained staff. Help us grow and get better with your subscription. Sign up HERE.