Working Three Jobs in South Texas
When I arrived in Texas in late April and looked at the Election 2004 county map, I immediately noticed a small section of Democratic counties in the South, so I decided to visit to find out what makes the area different from the rest of the state. My first stop was Crystal City, located in Zavala County, where Kerry got 75 percent of the vote. Like so many rural towns, Crystal City's main drag is full of empty storefronts and dilapidated buildings. I stopped at a small flea market and interviewed a few women who were hesitant to talk before and even during the interview; after I turned off my recorder, they wrote down their addresses and said they'd appreciate it if I would send them political magazines.
Here are excerpts from those interviews:
Sofia Munoz is a cook for early Head Start, a labor contractor in the fields and a part-time cook at a taco stand
How many hours a week do you work?
I work 40 in my regular job, 14 in my part-time job and eight, nine or sometimes 10 hours in the fields.
That's almost 64 hours a week.
I have to make ends meet.
What do you make?
In the fields, I make $5.15 an hour; as a regular cook, I make $6.76; and at the taco stand, it's $5.00 an hour. I work most of the time.
How long have you had those jobs?
My regular job, five years. And the other one, all my life. My parents were migrant workers and I worked there. After I got married, I continued working in the fields and raised a son. Then I got divorced and got this part-time job about three or four weeks ago. If I can work, everybody else can. There are a lot of people out there who depend on welfare and shouldn't. We were born to fight for our rights. Still, they tell us we can't and pay us cheap labor. We have to fight to get more money.
Do you ask for raises?
We asked for a raise, but they say we only get one percent of the cost of living. It should be three percent. Everyday they raise prices. The cost of living goes up every day. Look at the gas prices. It's hurting everybody.
What do you pay for rent?
I pay $150 in rent and about $200 in bills. On this income, I barely make ends meet. Way back in 1974, we had a walk out because we were discriminated against and we fought for our rights. Now we want to be known. We're equal. The only thing I get upset about is that politicians only know we're around during election time. They should always be there for the people. You're there because we voted for you to fight for what's right.
Do you vote?
Yes and I want to know why we're still at war. We want to know why. A lot of innocent people are getting killed. I vote Democrat all the time, but I feel that something went wrong.
What message would you send to politicians?
Please don't be an opportunist. Please continue to fight for our rights and let's do it together. If we all stand together, we can make a difference. We live in a small town, but those of us who stay informed spread the word and have a lot to say. All we ask is that you be real and listen. When they have debates, that's where I want to be because I have a lot of things to say. I work in the fields with 150 people and I fight for their wages and I fight for good conditions.
What's it like working in the fields?
I work in cabbage, cantaloupes and watermelon fields. When it's real hot, I just work five to seven hours. You have to be careful. We're human just like everybody else.
Where do you get your information?
I listen to the radio and television. I go to seminars and trainings. I always write everything down. That's who I am. I was born and raised to work hard. I graduated from high school. We never had the means to go to college. What I learned I learned from my family. I make a point to learn as much as I can and ask questions. Some of us get in trouble, but it's better to know the facts.
Maria Rivera, Homemaker
Why is your county the most Democratic county in the state of Texas?
Because of our Mexican heritage. Most of the people believe that the Democratic Party is for the poor people.
Tell me about Crystal City.
It hasn't been long since it's become a Hispanic town. It used to be mostly white. In 1974, we had a walk out. Most of the kids weren't allowed to leave so they had to jump out of the windows to join the walk out. By then, if you walked out, you would be suspended.
How has life changed since then?
It's getting worse. At least we had jobs back then. The white people brought in more opportunities. If you have a job, keep it. You won't get another one.
What kind of work do people do here?
They work at the Del Monte cannery. The high paying jobs are teachers, but they don't get paid a lot. Most guys are truck drivers.
Did you vote?
Yes, for Kerry.
What message would you send to politicians?
To get more involved with minorities.
What issues are most important to you?
Jobs, segregation and equality. If you're white, you get paid more than Hispanics. That's the main problem here.