Chapter Three:

Work with our back or with our brains

Dusk fields

In high school, Andy wanted a job.

From an early age, he and his siblings had learned the value of hard work—that if you work, you get money, and if you have money, you can do the things you want to do.

As early as six or seven years of age, Andy worked alongside his parents and older siblings in the grape fields, helping them make a bit of extra money during the summers.

Andy remembers them telling him and his siblings that they could either “work with our back or with our brains.”

Day fields

As teenagers, several of his citizen siblings moved on from the fieldwork they had done together as children to slightly easier jobs.

One worked at a Jack-in-the-Box. Another had a job at Burger King. His sister Beatriz had an office job, doing administrative work for a security company.

But Andy, around age 16, continued in the fields, picking peaches, nectarines, plums, and pomegranates together with his father.

Here’s how Andy and Beatriz describe their respective job experiences in high school:

“I remember my shoulders hurt, my legs. I was dirty. I was burned from the sun. It wasn't a good experience, especially not for a kid.”

The USC center’s 2012 Immigrant Integration Scorecard ranked Fresno County last when it comes to immigrant integration (defined in the report as economic mobility, civic participation and warmth of welcome for immigrants). “Although Fresno employs immigrants in its large agricultural industry,” it states, “these economic opportunities are not translating into immigrant integration. These seasonal, low-paying jobs do not lift immigrants out of poverty and keep them constantly on the move. The challenge, then, is how to support a population that is so dynamic—both in terms of workforce development and civic engagement.” Ortiz, a co-author of the report, cautions that the research for this report took place around 2011-2012, and that the landscape for immigrant integration in the county may have changed since.

For Martinez of the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, a person’s undocumented status isn’t in and of itself a limiting factor in leading a successful, civically-engaged life. “It can certainly impede you to do many things,” he says, “but depending on the individual's own initiatives and on the opportunities that person is able to identify, that person may actually be able to carry out many, many, many types of activities that would pretty much lead to a normal life and even a very successful economic life.”

But, the problem, he says, is that not everyone has the opportunity to find those possibilities for upward mobility and integration, especially in today's political climate, given the level of fear among the undocumented population. Many are uncertain about being in contact with any type of government agency, about purchasing a home, about establishing a business.

“That's one of the consequences,” he adds, “it just doesn't allow people to really develop as fully as possible given their own abilities, given the possible opportunities that may be available.”

Andy school

Andy had always liked school.

It was easy for him, especially compared to the kind of work he had done in the fields. In high school, he got As and Bs in most of his classes.

But, because of his undocumented status, he assumed that he couldn’t take the SATs or attend college.

Beatriz, on the other hand, was the first in their family to go to college.

“There was a moment in high school where I felt really bad that I couldn't do anything.”

In 2004, when Andy graduated from high school, there was nothing preventing undocumented students from taking the SATs or applying to college, according to Martinez.

But he says many undocumented students in the Central Valley and beyond get poor—even misguided—advice, from their schools. “Some have told us openly that their high school counselors told them not to apply ‘cause they were undocumented and they should go back to Mexico, whatever the case may end up being.”

Martinez added that Andy was likely one such individual that wasn't informed adequately and thought he would be in danger if he took the SATs, which Martinez says “is ridiculous, unfortunately.”

Andy says he believed he couldn’t apply to college or take the SAT because that’s what family members told him. He also says there were other educational opportunities—his high school driver’s ed classes, for example—that required an ID and he assumed that the SATs would be the same case.

Cost of attendance was also a factor for Andy, as it is for many undocumented students. Without financial aid, he could not afford to attend a CSU. At the time, state and federal financial aid was not available to undocumented immigrants. (Today, state aid is available through the California Dream Act, but federal aid is not.)

In 2005, he started at Fresno City College, despite feeling as though he could have gone to a UC or CSU.

Fresno city college