Second of a two part series examining the Sonoma immigrant experience, particularly in the context of the “Immigration Modernization Act” now before Congress. Read part one here.
Unlike Maricela and her family (profiled in part one), who were pulled toward Sonoma by the hope of prosperity that the American dream promises, Noe, a grape-picker originally from Jalisco, a rural Mexican town with a landscape similar to Sonoma’s, was pushed out by desperate conditions.
Noe couldn’t stay in Jalisco because he was, he said, pushed off his land. He has lived in Sonoma for 13 years, with a green card he obtained through his father, who is now a citizen and has been picking grapes in Sonoma since 1975.
Noe is one of the few immigrants with a green card who doesn’t want any part of the American dream for himself. His dream is to go back to Mexico and earn the living he was supposed to have had as a farmer owning his own land. He has no plans to become a citizen.
“I don’t like to live here in the United States because it is a lot of stress and pressure,” he said through a translator. “(The American dream) is only a dream … it’s not a reality. To own a house you have to work up to 12 to 14 hours a day just to be able to pay the house off.”
His undocumented wife, Melva, is not such a fatalist. She has more faith in the American dream. A non-English speaker, like her husband, she supplements the family income with a Mary Kay cosmetics business. She has been working on getting her green card for three years, after coming to the United States in 2008.
The sparsely furnished three-bedroom apartment Noe shares with his parents, his wife and his four-year-old son, Aaron, is available only to farm workers and rents for $875 a month. Noe, who earns $25,000 to $27,000 a year, doesn’t receive any employee benefits and, aside from the 3 percent his employer contributes to his 401K, he’s saving what he can for his own retirement. During harvest season, he comes home after a 17-hour work day, seven days a week. He has no aspirations to be promoted to foreman because he sees it as a modest amount of extra money that is not worth the extra burden.
“I get times where there is easier work, so I am fine with staying where I am,” he said.
Despite having no American dream for himself, he does have one that centers around his son’s future.
“My hope for my son is at least not to work in the fields, and to have an education,” he said. Aaron attends Flowery Elementary School, a Spanish/English dual immersion school, under the federal Head Start program.
The Road Not Often Taken
Although S.744 is commonly described as the “pathway to citizenship,” there are many brambles and thickets, and the road is often washed out. In some places it completely disappears. There is no clear path because no one has traveled the road yet, and it seems unlikely that anyone will do so soon.