Faces and names from Woodburn that I want to write about, but haven’t figured out how to yet (the names have all been changed):
– Rosita, the main lady who cooked for us. So cuddly and huge and welcoming. Reminded me of my nanny from Colombia, in the way she frowned at and ordered the kids of the local community around. “Jonathan, no seas tan cocino!” (Jonathan, don’t be such a piggy!) she would scold Gemma’s youngest son, after he threw yet another enormous palm-full of barkchips at me. “Julie you forgot to lock the door!” she would constantly cry out at me, after I came close to leaving yet again without properly closing the community center. She cried after every single group of volunteers left and insisted on hugging each teen one by one. “She’s kind of like everyone’s mom,” one of the teens said, and I had to agree, and not just because of her fabulous cooking. In the little first day introductory ritual, in which the group of brand new volunteers would go around in a circle and say their names and what their dreams were (so reminiscent for me of working for Kiva and asking that unavoidable end of the interview question: “so what are your hopes and dreams?”), Rosita said that her dream was to take ESL and computer classes and get her GED.
— Nine-month pregnant Gemma from Oaxaca. She was still going out into the field to pick up until a week ago. “Gemma es una brava para pescar los blueberries,” Rosita told me; Gemma is a real kick-ass at blueberry picking. In the four hours they worked, Rosita made $10, Gemma picked a whole pint (I can’t remember how much she made). Blueberries are apparently some of the hardest fruits to pick, with strawberries and cucumbers being the worst. She’d lived in Oregon for about three years, two and a half of those in a crowded house with fourteen other people (most of whom used drugs) with an alcoholic husband who beat her. She eventually left with her three kids after hearing an add on the radio about local farmworker housing services. One of her eyes was half-closed all the time–a problem with the lid? “Es una cosa muy linda, lo que estas haciendo,” she told me at the end of one week, and it meant more to me than anything written on the end of the week review sheets. Gemma’s dream was for her kids to have office jobs and “not work in the fields like me, since I want them to have a better life and not suffered like I have, since the work es duro… muy duro.”
— Jonathan, Gemma’s two year old son. Supposedly very shy and a total momma’s boy, followed Gemma EVERYWHERE. Once he got in awful trouble for getting into her bathroom and messing up all her soaps and shampoos and creams and things, pouring them all over the mirror. Whenever Gemma would ask him “Quieres un bebe, Jonathan?”, pointing at her belly, he would shake his head emphatically and bellow “NO!” No was his favorite word. “Jonathan, don’t you want to come live with me in Portland?” I would say. “You can live with me in my house and we can go to the zoo and ride on the Max! Wouldn’t that be fun, Jonathan?” His eyes would gradually growing more confused, then fearful, then finally angry, and then it would come: “NO!”
–Magdalena with her long braid from Oaxaca and her huge family: husband, daughter, daughter’s husband, daughter’s son, teenage son, teenage daughter (who was gorgeous!). They mostly spoke Mixteca with each other. Crazy to imagine having to learn to speak Spanish as a 2nd language, on top of English!! They all used to live in one of the labor camps we visited but finally moved to the affordable housing unit three months ago, as their squalid, cramped living conditions was considered to be the state of an emergency. “Oh, esta bueno,” she would say to anything I ever asked her or commented upon. “Is it okay if we send some volunteers to take showers in your place?” “Man, I really messed up my foot day.” “I ate so much… I’m sooo full!” (the most common). Magdalena’s dream was to get papers for her and her family. They used to be corn farmers but immigrated to the U.S. when they were unable to make enough money to feed themselves there. I asked the husband of her daughter what was the trick to good blueberry picking. After laughing for a bit at the absurdity of the question, he opened and closed his hand like a claw. “Es en los manos,” he said, it’s in the hands.
–Maria, whose job was (in her own words) to “arrange grapes so that they look pretty.” She always dressed real tough, in rubber black boots and dirty pants, maybe because every time I saw her she had just returned from the field. She had three sons, Jesus, one whose name I can’t remember and baby Bryan, who was ALWAYS crying for some reason or the other. Mostly when she took her cellphone away from him, so that he couldn’t watch streaming youtube videos of “Freddy vs. Jason” on the Internet, or when his popsicles would fall on the ground.
— Ernesto and Chui, Rosita’s sons. Chui was chubby and into break-dancing, teaching afternoon classes at the local education center. The kids performed for us several times and were pretty damn bendy–I’m approaching two years of taking yoga classes now and am still nowhere CLOSE to being as flexible as these eight-year-olds (a bit discouraging, to say the least!). Ernesto was stoic and withdrawn but still smiled and make jokes with us every once in a while. He was always helping his mom out in the kitchen, most notably barbecuing the meat for the Saturday night despedida lunch of tacos de carne asada. He was almost deported yesterday when he got stopped by a cop on a motorcyle (Woodburn has increased its police presence this weekend, thanks to the three-day Mexican cultural fiesta it’s hosting) for talking on his cellphone. The car got towed since he was found to owe over $1,200 in ticket fees (from two tickets with accumulated late fees he could never afford to pay) and driving on a suspended licence. The car is basically gone since they obviously don’t have the $640 necesarry to pay to get it back (not to mention the ticket fees). Now he and Rosita can’t go to Astoria to see about a potential job in a cannery on Monday, since they no longer own a car. When Rosita told me this story, I felt upset enough to the point of feeling deeply depressed about the fucked up, ruthless cycle of poverty, but then when I saw how not-as-upset she was, I slowly started to see things from her perspective: all she lost was her car, as opposed to her son, you know?
There’s a couple more. To be continued, maybe, just so that I won’t forget.
In book-reading news, I’ve been reading Ricardo Piglia (finished the short story collection Assumed Name and started the novel The Absent City) and am really enjoying him… especially the Roberto Arlt/Borges fanboy homages!