Community and Culture
Nuestra Historia/Our History
The text below is Forks High School student Cecilia's 1997 Senior Project Research Paper.
Mexicans and Hispanics, in general, constitute a large percentage of the Forks population. They came to Forks in search of a better future and safety. For some reason the Mexican community in Forks has been characterized with a bad reputation. It is believed that all Mexicans deal drugs, drink alcohol and abuse their families. form part of this community and I want to do something to change that image. For this reason, I decided to research the Mexican history in Forks. The goal of my project is to change the image that the white community has toward Mexicans. The purpose of this research paper is to have a written record of the development of the Mexican community, to make the community aware of the accomplishments and traditions celebrated in Forks. I believe that through sharing the research the Forks community will understand the Mexican community better. And it will begin to change the negative attitudes.
The Mexican history dates back to 1774. "In 1774, the Spaniard Juan Perez, on his ship Santiago, sailed out of San Bias, a port in Western Mexico, in search for a shorter route to the orient (Gamboa and Sanchez, Video)." The main purposes of this voyage were to "regain position in world affairs, to extend the Catholic religion and to add geographical knowledge (LaWarren. p. 60)." On his journey, Perez anchored his ship off the coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Perez and his crew were the first non-natives to step on the Pacific Northwest. When Perez returned to New Spain he brought back news of glorious land that interested Spain. Spain, then sent two more expeditions, which were lead by Bruno de Heceta and Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. Heceta claimed the whole Northwest as part of the Spanish territory (Gamboa and Sanchez, Video and LeWarren, p60.).
Spanish scientist brought samples of different plants to Mexico and studied them, they also brought armor, baskets and recorded of the habits and rituals of Native Americans. Through these studies, we are able to learn more about the early history of the Native Americans. The early explorers also made maps that clearly established the boundary of what they considered Spanish territory. These maps were the basis to establish the boundary between Canada and the United States (Gamboa and Sanchez, Video).
"In 1790 Francisco Eliza explored the San Juan Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to strengthened the Spanish hold on the Pacific Northwest (LeWarren, p.60)." Eliza, Salvador Fidalgo and Manuel Quimper, in 1792, "established the first nonnative settlement on the present site of Neah Bay (Gamboa and Sanchez, video)." Spain, in agreement with Russia and Britain withdrew from the Pacific Northwest, in the late eighteenth century (Gamboa and Sanchez, Video and LeWarren, p66). Spain decided that it was better to concentrate their efforts in California, which was firmly controlled by them, than to try to control the Pacific Northwest.
Even though, Spain withdrew from the area, Mexican continued to migrate to the Pacific Northwest bringing with them their culture and knowledge. Mexican adventurers brought with them their iron working, the skill to manage livestock and they introduced farming as a tool of survival. They also introduced different foods such as wheat and other grains, apples and other fruits. These food now constitute a large part of Washington's economy.
When the Mexican Revolution started in 1910, hundreds of Mexicans migrated the United States looking for safety and a better future. Mexican men had a major role in establishing the agricultural economic foundation of the State of Washington. They built patterns of trade and transportation that served as economic links with other parts of the country. These patterns of trade and transportation could be traced directly to the Southwest of Mexico (Gamboa and Sanchez, Video).
During the Second World War, the government implemented the Bracero Program to resolve the problem of labor shortage. According to this program any Mexican could come to work in the United States for six months, each year. Thousand of Mexicans came to work in the fields of Washington. These men worked in awful conditions. They were victims of racial discrimination, injuries, long hours and poor housing. These men made invaluable contributions to the economy. They saved the crops, helped maintain the economic stability, and most important they enriched the state's culture (Gamboa and Sanchez, and LeWarren, p336).
After a brief history of our Mexican ancestor and the impact that they had on this area, now we have to look at the present and understand the factors which still lead Mexicans to migrate to this area and what the impact and legacy that they will leave behind.
Our Mexican ancestors opened new lands and new hopes to their people. It was they who brought back to Mexico stories of good fortune, of easy money and adventure. Ever since, Mexican men have migrated to this area in search of these treasures.
Every year hundreds of Mexicans leave their homeland to make their American dream a reality. From several interviews, I was able to conclude that most of the residents of Forks come from the states of Nayarit, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Mexico Distrito Federal, Chihuahua and Guanajuato. The majority of the Mexican population currently residing in Forks, left their states in search of a better future and safety. A major factors for this migration is that Mexico had been under a period of economic hardships for the past decades. The cost of living is very high and the salaries are very low, and they cannot live modestly that way.
Another factor that caused this migration during the late 70's, 80's and 90's was the timber industry. The timber industry is a very lucrative business and very appealing to people. Yet, another reason for this migration is the urge that humans have to experience new things and fulfill their hunger for adventure.
It's funny that some of Mexican men when I asked them why they had moved to the United states they answered "to sweep the dollars, "this implies that in the United States you become rich without sacrifice. This is an expression commonly used among people when they first come up to the United States. When they finally come to the states they face the harsh reality of a country that hides its poverty and hunger.
This reality starts when they make the decision to leave everything behind and to move to a new and strange place. The majority of the first Mexicans residents in Forks were young men, between the ages of 16 and 25. These men left their homes knowing nothing about the lifestyle of the United States. They took a bus to Tijuana with just enough money to pay the Coyote- the person that will lead them to the United States. The men waited until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. when the border patrol was out of sight and then they jumped. or went under the fence to cross the border. Once they were on the other side of the border they started walking.
Here is an account of a man who nearly died trying to cross the frontier. "We walked for three whole days, we got lost in the desert. We had no water. A woman was dying, and all she said was, 'Leave me here to die, I don't want to be a load to you, leave me here.' I begged God that someone would find us. Finally on the third day the border patrol picked us up. I blessed God (Acuna, A., interview)."
But this kind of experience do not keep them from coming into the country. After several tries they finally reach a city, either in the state of California or the state of Texas. The majority of immigrants go through this process the first time they come to the United States. Most of the illegal residents became legal with the Amnesty of 1986, and now they can just come and go as they please. The amnesty allowed unlawful resident that lived in the states prior to January 1, 1982 to become permanent residents if they qualified as special agricultural worker (Tassof).
After the illegal immigrants reach a safe place in the United States, most of them choose to live in California. These new immigrants work in the fields or in some type of factory before they migrate to Washington State. In many cases they come up to harvest apples somewhere in Eastern Washington and from some friend they learn about Forks. They learned that Forks was a place were jobs were abundant and they could make money easily.
At first young Mexican men came to this area to plant trees. Then they started thinning and finally they started to "cut blocks," that is to cut shake and shingle bolts. These men work in cedar salvage areas, they cut stumps that loggers leave behind and no longer want. Sometimes they dig the wood out of the ground, for this reason they are sometimes identified as "gophers." These men work the unwanted jobs, under harsh conditions for low pay.
After they establish themselves here in the city, they began telling friends and family members about the kind of money they make , which is more than they would earn in their native country. As a result their relatives and friends, mostly males move to the area also. Then, the men bring their entire family and start building the Mexican-American community.
After the males have a secure job and a place to live, then they bring their families. The first complete Mexican family in Forks was the Velazquez family. Victor Velazquez, the head of the family had first moved to the area to work with his brother-in-law. After a short period of time the whole family moved up from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Manuela Velazquez, the mother, said that they only came to Forks for six months, but those six months turned to 18 years and they still reside in the area. They didn't think that it was necessary to enroll their children in school, but after a while they realized that they would be here longer and decided to enroll their girls in school. In 1979, the Velazquez girls became the first Mexican girls enrolled in the Forks Elementary school. The Velazquez family is a great example of the typical pattern of the Mexican immigrant because they represent the typical way Mexican families migrate. First, the men explores, and if he believes he can survive, the whole family follows.
The Mexican population had increased steadily since the 1980's. In the 1970's there were "about 15 single males and one family (Velazquez, Interview)." "In 1980, there was only 36 Hispanics in Forks (Steike, Interview)." "In the whole county there was only 614 people (Cook and Jordan, p.11 )." In a decade the population more than doubled. "In 1990 there 1150 people in the county (Cook and Jordan p.11 )." "In the last 4 years population has boomed, about 900 Hispanic live in or around Forks (Dawson, p. A2)"
In Clallam County, Forks has the biggest Hispanic and Mexican population. It is in Forks where Mexican men and women began to organize themselves and built a strong community. The first thing in which the Mexican community found refuge was the church. The Catholic Church began to make room for the lonely immigrants. The masses were given in Spanish and everybody could understand it. Early residents tell that the only thing they could do was to go to church. "Everybody went to church," Pablo Castaneda said. He said that it was a way for them to relieve the tension of their lives.
Following the church was the development of social groups. In 1989, in the words of Manuela Velazquez, "the Hispanic group was born," officially known as the Hispanic Women's Association. This association was founded by Minie Thorton and Manuela Velazquez, and Rosa Sagrero became the first elected president (Dawson, A2). It was formed by 17 women. The women met in each other's houses, was easier to do that, than to rent a place to hold the meetings. They met "to share talents, to sew and knit, to decorate cakes, to make raffles, to do charity work, to sponsor cultural events and to serve as a source of information of other Hispanics" (Velazquez, Interview). Lately, the women have had to work outside the home and cannot organize the meetings and celebration.
The Hispanic Women's Association was responsible for the Cinco de Mayo celebrations. The Cinco de Mayo celebration is an important date in the history of Mexico. "On May 5, 1862, General Zaragoza, in Puebla was able to drive back Napoleon, and with him a period of French dominance (World Wide Web. http//soundprint.brandywine.america.edu/ -soundprt/mo re_info_/nogales_history.html)."
Now, May 5th is a date of victory and joy, and Mexicans in the United States celebrate it with a big and colorful fiesta. "The first Cinco de Mayo celebrated in Forks was sponsored by the Hispanic Women's Association in 1990. It was held at the Vagabond. The women in the community made enough food to feed up to 300 people. The food was accompanied with traditional dances such as the Jarabe Tapatio, La Negra and others. The money earned during the celebration was donated to buy Christmas decorations for Highway 101. For four consecutive years the association sponsored the celebration. In 1991 and in 1992, it was held at the Forks Elementary School. In 1993, presentations were given in the three schools, and in 1994 the dancers formed part of the first annual celebration of the cultural awareness month in the Peninsula College (Velazquez, Interview)."
With this new association, a musical group was also born. The group was formed by Jose Carvajal. Group lIusion as it is now called, organized dances for the Mexican community in Forks. The money earned was used to buy school supplies for children in need.
Carvajal was also responsible for bringing one of the most beautiful Mexican traditions, el 12 de Diciembre, the birth of Virgin Mary to Forks. Carvajal with the aid of the Hispanic Women's Association organized "Las Maiianitas" (the good-morning birthday song, typical of Mexican families, usually performed during a birthday party).
Every year, Dorotea Tirado, in the beginning of December, goes to every Hispanic house asking for a donation to buy flowers to decorate the virgin's altar, the Mexican chocolate and the bread for the community breakfast. On December 12th, around 4:00 a.m., everyone is up getting ready to go to church to sing to the Virgin. At 5:00 a.m., everyone meets in the church, the musician begin to play and everybody starts singing. They pray a rosary in the Virgin's honor and then the whole community has breakfast.
Another popular tradition also tied with the Catholic religion is the Quinceanera. "A Quinceanera is a joyous celebration of a girl's 15th birthday party. Celebrates with fancy clothes, music, dance and much pageantry...ln this ceremony the girl celebrated her passage to womanhood, her commitment to Catholicism and her debut in society (Nevins and Valickas. Poster)." So far in Forks five Quinceaneras have been celebrated. All celebrations start with the traditional mass and end with a reception. At the reception, the girl and her escorts perform a typical dance for the community, then she dances the first song with her father, after the dance the girl is crowned, indicating that she is the queen of the night. A last doll is given to the girl, which she throws like a bride throws her bouquet. This symbolizes that she is leaving her childhood behind and now she is starting her womanhood.
In 1992, Manuel Cruz opened the first Mexican business. Cruz said that he considered that the population was getting too big and that a Mexican store was needed to fulfill their needs. His store is called "La Tienda Latina." The store has a variety of foods imported from Mexico, Spanish movies, typical Mexican clothes and objects. Cruz said that his customers are mostly Hispanic, but the white community is becoming familiar with his products.
The white community has responded to the Hispanic need in several ways. Two examples are the bilingual program and the migrant program, and La Clinica de la Raza. The State Transitional Bilingual Program "is directed to pupils (1) who have a primary language other than English, and (2) whose limited English language skills impair learning. Mastery of English is the main objective of the program and assistance is limited to those students in need of special help (Quillayute Valley School District Handbook, p.15)." The Title 1 Migrant Program "provides supplemental educational assistance to children of currently and recently migrant families who reside in Washington state (Quillayute Valley School District Handbook. p15)."
Christine Ballard is the second bilingual teacher hired by the school district. Ballard said that currently they are helping about 50 children between the ages of 5 and 11, most of them Hispanic. They go to her classroom, where they learn English and then they go back to their regular classrooms. Ballard is trying to implement a Dual Bilingual Program. This program will teach English and Spanish to students. It will benefit the whole school body, not only children that have problems with the English language.
La Clinica de la Raza was founded with the purpose to help immigrants. "Dr. Jill Ginsberg, who was working at the clinic of Susan Shane, established a medical facility, where Hispanic can receive medical attention for only $5, that before was unavailable to them (Heiber, p. A4)." La Clinica de la Raza still serves the Hispanic community today. Now Susan Shane is running it.
The white community in general have supported the Mexican and Hispanic community, but there are always exceptions. Lorena Barragan said that a few years ago, the Forks Forum. on the police reports section always wrote "a Mexican did this or a Mexican did that," but it didn't write a white or a Native American committed a crime, and this made the community view them in a different way. "Some long-time residents say quality of life has gone up with the influx of Mexicans to the West End (Dawson, p. A2)." The Forks Police Department said that out of all the defendants only 20% are Mexicans. Mexicans, just like any other ethnic group have good and bad elements, but it is a lot easier to see the bad than the good. Mexicans just came here in search of secu rity and economic stability.
There has also been some friction because some of the white residents believe that Mexicans are taking their jobs away. Now that the timber industry is declining, they have to find someone to blame, and Mexicans became the perfect scapegoat. In fact, there are a few, if none, Mexicans who log. The majority of them work cutting cedar bolts, picking ornamental greenery, planting and thinning trees. They work the unwanted jobs. They work on the ruins that loggers left behind, and they work for much less money than loggers do.
After a community is developed and stabilized, some changes have to occur in order for the immigrant families to adapt to the new environment. Lisa Valle organized a class called "Nifios Bien Educados (Well Educated Children)," which helped the families to assimilate better. The big theme in this class was discipline. In this class, they taught them how to discipline their children, so that they will meet the norms and rules of the United States society. Valle also taught them other basic information that will help them adjust better, without leaving their culture. On the other hand, some people assimilate leaving their culture behind, such was the case of Sandra Velazquez. Velazquez turned her back to her roots because she felt ashamed of her culture when people told her that she was "just a beaner." She realized that she didn't need to turn back her culture to be accepted (Dawson, p. A1 ).
The Mexican community have contributed to the economic, social and cultural life of Forks. For the past 25 years, both communities have lived in harmony. Mexicans are doing everything they can to fit in better in the Caucasian community and viceversa, but there has been exceptions on both sides. There have been bad Mexican elements that has caused the Caucasian community to stereotype the Mexican community as a bad influence to their society. After reading this paper I hope open minds persist and prejudice decrease.
This research paper is the product of my project. For my senior project I researched the history of the Mexican community in Forks and set up a display board illustrating this history. Originally, I said that I would write a booklet on the history, but I feel that there is no need, this research will be good enough. It will give the reader more complete information, than just a simple booklet.
When I began working on my project I was afraid that I would not find enough information to meet my requirements because the history of Mexicans in this particular town only dates back 20 to 25 years, but I was wrong. I learned that Hispanics are making a big impact on the community in such a short time. I began my project by interviewing early residents, I was amazed at the things they told me. They felt so lonely and abandoned. But their suffering did make a difference. They were the foundation of a bigger and better Mexican community that now exists in Forks.
The one interview that I will never forget is the Manuela Velazquez interview. admire that woman for her courage and dedication to the betterment of the community and herself. When Manuela first came to Washington, she came by herself with her five children. She spoke no English and had a horrible time getting to where her husband was. Now after 18 years in Forks, Manuela has become the most loved and respected member of the Mexican community. She learned English and is going to receive her AA degree this year. Through her I was able to learn all the things that happened in this community before I moved in 1993. She kept newspaper articles on anything pertaining to her and my people. I feel very proud when I see someone become as successful as Manuela Velazquez.
I started working on my project in June, and I finished it in December. I t took a lot of effort and dedication of my part to collect all the information needed to make my project possible. My project will have a long time impact because it will be preserved in the Forks library, so that upcoming generations can have access to it. just hope that the fruits of my labor will act as a catalyst and help to end racism.