by Richard Baron
Posted on October 17, 2005
Carlos Marentes in his office at Centro de Trabajadores Agrícula Fronteriza
“My wife and I were from Ciudad Juárez but were living in Albuquerque in the early 70's when we decided to work with a farm workers group in south Texas that was recruiting volunteers. I became the editor of their newspaper and my wife became their social services person. We stayed with them for three years and then decided if we wanted to keep working with farm workers, we would come to El Paso because we were familiar with the area.
“One morning at about three o’clock, we were on South El Paso Street and it was very cold. All the workers were sleeping on the sidewalk, and we decided we would dedicate ourselves to find a place for them.
“It took over ten years to convince the city and society that the workers needed something better than the streets, but in February of 1995, we materialized Centro de Trabajadores Agrícula Fronteriza, the Center for Border Agricultural Workers.
“The purpose of the center is to provide support to the workers of the area and the migrant workers who pass through following the crops, like the cebolleros who travel from South Texas on up to Colorado.
“We have an estimated local labor force of 12,000 farm workers. A lot of them live in the colonias of El Paso and southern New Mexico, but many of them still keep their homes in Mexico because what they earn is not enough to maintain a home in the United States, and they cross back and forth.
“Every night at midnight, the labor contractors come to South El Paso to look for workers, and the farm workers stay at the center, so every night it’s like a labor market outside the center. When the workers return from the fields, they use the center to have a meal and take a shower, and they participate in the many activities that we offer, from cultural events to presentations on their rights and issues that are important to their survival.
“Previously, they slept on the sidewalks and they had to face harsh weather and criminal elements, and it was an unsafe situation. Now, the center is located in such a way that the workers can use it as a base of operations, and they have a place where they are provided with humanity and dignity.” – Carlos Marentes
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Richard Baron may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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