Community and Culture
— Rafael teaches ESL at Peninsula College in Forks, WA. He has lived in the area for over 15 years and was interviewed in the Spring of 2005.
How does where you live influence how you live?
They are different two different worlds - night and day. The one that I come from I left it due to wanting, looking for changes in life, and the one that I found is still not my world. I am comfortable with, but it is not home. I'm trying to make it my home more and more - by having my wife and trying to feel more free.
How has you life changed living in the Forks region?
Compared to home, it has changed, work, the weather is different, living with different people and trying to make a go of it. I think I have adapted well to both worlds.
What is the reason for Forks?
It was one of those flukes of life, I guess. I was living in PA and the opportunity arose for 3 months, this in 1989 - 3 months became 4, 5,6 and I decided to move to the Forks area, and I've been living here almost 15 years in the Forks area.
Do you want to stay or would you want to back to your home country? Or do you have aspirations to go somewhere else?
I really love the area. Eventually someday I would like to have either 50/50, or 40/60, where we could go back home to Mexico. But no, the Forks area has become more our home. We are buying a house, so that means we have made a commitment to really stay here, but we want to keep a home in Mexico if time allows it with health and money.
What are some of the barriers to however you would determine success, you've experienced or witnessed living in the area?
Not for myself, but If I were to speak the others, it would be the language, English and the lack of work is limited to what people can do here. There's not much industry or shops or things you can do. It's limited to the woods.
How do you think the community could be set up to serve a more diverse community?
I think the City of Forks and surrounding areas could do more by doing research to bring in more companies to do work, and perhaps for the folks who do not have degrees, for those people who are just labeled as labor. The PA area has some factories, and rebuilding of the ships, and the such. The Forks area has not done much to provide work for the people.
Since you've been in Forks, what changes have you seen in the community?
It has become more open to the Hispanics. They know we are not just coming to leave, but we are coming to stay. So they have become more educated, from my own point of view, they've attempted to become more open minded.
Do you think there's a reason for that?
I think people have become more familiar with the Hispanic community. They know we are here to do a job. I'm sure there are some that still resent the Hispanic people in Forks, but folks and business are becoming more tolerant. This is not something they can just send back and get there money back in the mail. This is what I mean about industries. Something has to be done besides just working in the woods, people need jobs.
How was it before?
Before it was pretty dry. It was like, we don't like you and if you want a place you can live out of town. 15 -20 years ago the Hispanics lived 10 miles away from town. People came to town, bought their groceries and went back into the woods. Now there are whole families that live together, from grandma's to grandpa's, to little kids. People are buying property, which is good for the economy.
How has you family relationships changed?
All of my brothers and sisters live in the United States, and we had to adapted to the new rules and regulations. All of my family is doing very well, keeping their culture alive. My brothers and sisters have places in Mexico, so they go back and forth. Their kids are bilingual, so they speak English and Spanish, so the tradition continues.
Was leaving because of economic reasons? If you had a choice, would you have stayed in Mexico?
It has to do with economic reasons. You know, right now in my home town, if I was to be working from 5 in the morning to 7 at night, in my trade. I was in construction. I would be lucky if I was making 20 dollars a day. This is working a full day with a trade. Someone without a trade or a skill may be making 5 to 8 dollars a day. No insurance, no retirement, no medical if you get hurt you get hurt,.It seems like the only way by coming to the US - trying to better yourself and your family. You have to work. Nothing comes for free in the United States. I have not experienced anything for free in the United States.
The things I have or own is because I have earned them and worked hard for them. I imagine if I were to do the same in Mexico, I would have come up to a different level. I have a mission, and that is not to just work from day to day pay check. I like to have a little bit for when rainy days come.
Over here you can buy yourself some jeans and a shirt and have money left over. People back home have to buy jeans through layaway, it may take two or three weeks to buy a pair of jeans. So that goes to show you things are hard. The quality of life is much more relaxed though, they don't get up at 3 in the morning and come home at 9 in the evening. The family culture is much more rich over there than I would say over here. But sometimes people have to give to gain something else. It's like that old saying, you can't have your cake and eat it too.
What were expectations moving to the United States?
My expectations were to make enough money to get a pick up. But you get stuck in the web of work. You know if you work 10 hrs you can make this much money, and if you work 30 hrs you can make this much. So you work, more, more, more. My wife says I'm a workaholic. I don't think so . I should have the right to earn my money.
What are your feelings about life compared to those expectations you had?
Oh, I got my pick-up. (laugh) But I worked at it. I've always worked since the first day I arrived here. I wanted to make some money to help my family, and I have done that. I could die now and be happy, of course, I don't want to leave my wife behind. (laugh) But yeah, I have done more than I set out to accomplish to do. In the back of my mind, I have been inching forward, when I didn't even think I was. But I did it, at least I think I did it.
What happened that you never went back to Mexico, after you got your pick-up? What changed?
Oh, I never got a pick-up. I got a car. (laugh) Ah, I had my accident and I didn't go back home. I could've gone home, but I didn't. I wanted to wait longer until I got my green card, so I could go back legally. But that took longer, took years. It took, I got hurt in 79, and I think I was able to get back in 87, it took that long.
Can you describe the journey at all?
We hired someone to bring us across on innertubes, but when I saw the river, I thought, I could have swam this river myself. (laughing) It was unknown. He took us to this thin part of the river, and I remember thinking, "This is it, this is the Rio Grande!" (laugh) But we went across, and we paid somebody to pay another guys car across the border and park it at this certain bar across the border. We were suppose to go north, and we kept going and going and we got to the highway, and we knew that we had to go back. So, we got to the bar, got into the car and drove off. The car broke down about an hour and a half after the journey. So the guy says to me, give me 200 dollars. I was supposed to give this guy 200 dollars, this is 1977, 200 dollars is a lot of money. But I said, no, no, no, I'll give you half in advance, and the other half when you get me there. So the car broke, and we started walking and every time we saw a light we hit the ground. We were wearing dark clothes, but when you're on a highway you have to do that a lot. So we kept walking to get off the highway, and he said to me I want to go to the next town. So we got there, and I wanted to call my brother. So, he said ok. So, he took off, and I waited all night and all day, and he didn't come back. And I though, oh, crap, what now? So I had enough guts to go to a restaurant in town. I talked to a waitress, and ask her where the bus station was. It was just like in the movies. I ordered some food, and she told me where the bus station was. She told me to wait to a certain time, because I didn't want to be attracting anybody. This was a town near the border, so every individual can be stopped and asked for a green card. So once the! time arrived, and I got on the bus, and I went to Rosenburg, Texas, where my cousin was. And I didn't know anybody, or have any phone numbers, because that guy was supposed to take me to the address where my family was for 200 dollars. I met someone one the bus that was also going to Rosenburg, so I started asking him questions. Did he know these people? And he did, so when we got off the bus, he eventually drove me to where my cousin's place was, and viola I was in the United States. It was a long journey, physically, and psychologically, but I kept that one-hundred dollars in my pocket and that was the first time. Then I went back and came across in a canoe, and after that I stayed.
What was your occupation in Mexico?
I was in construction. My dad was in construction. By the age of seventeen I had a work crew. I think I would have been somebody if I would have stayed, because I was running the crew and doing houses by contract. You would charge - it would take so many days, hours and you would give them a bid, and you would negotiate it. I was doing that when I was seventeen, eighteen years old. I was building houses. Real houses, not wood houses.
What is your occupation in Forks?
I am a teacher for the Olympic Peninsula College and I work at the prison teaching an electronics class. That's the degree I got in school. I got a degree in electronics. I teach ESL classes in the evening.
Can you describe some of the challenges of your occupation?
The job in the day is difficult. I work with criminals trying to teach them skills so they can deal with people and have a job. It doesn't matter to me what they have done, although, it may be cruel to say, but if I where to no everybody's crimes I would be in sorrow trying to help them. So, I don't know there crimes, unless they tell me. My goal is for them to get a certificate in electronics, so they can become certified technicians and go to work.
My night class, I work teaching basic English to non-native speakers. I enjoy what I do so far. I wouldn't be happy working in the trees. I like to listen to people, and to be with people, and to watch a person's eye movements.
How have you seen things change teaching ESL - watching the different number of people come to class to learn how to speak English?
Most definitely, it is a constant struggle. You have to remind them and push them to the limits to attend. In my mind, it is key for people to be able to speak English, and to read it, and write it. I mean, you can get a better job. People who speak Spanish work in the woods picking salal, doing brush or working in the cedar industry. My expectations are that if you learn how to read and write you can get a GED, a college degree, and then get a better job. Why not? So I mean, it can happen. You have to work at it. It doesn't come free.