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n 43 CHAPTER 4 Living Here When labor contractor Maria García and her family brought Mexican workers from Arizona to rural western New York State, they did more than enslave them. They also forced more than thirty of them to live in a single farmhouse, where eleven workers shared three beds in one room. Perhaps the García story is an extreme case, but there are other accounts of similar substandard housing. David K. Shipler describes a migrant camp in North Carolina: “There, in a weedy lot less than twenty feet from where Thanksgiving yams were grown stood the building, as dismal as a neglected barn. Long and narrow with a peaked roof, its single story had many doors, each opening into an unpainted cinder-block room resembling a cell. Each cell smelled of mold, was lit by a bare bulb on the ceiling, and contained two or three bunks, not enough for the laborers who crowded in there.” The mattresses were moldy, “sticky” and “disgusting,” so foul that the residents preferred to sleep on the floor for fear of getting a disease. “The farm owners usually provide housing for the migrants—either barracks like this one, run-down trailers, or dilapidated wooden farmhouses that look like shipwrecks on a horizon of tilled earth.”1 The author and his guide, Episcopal priest Father Tony Rojas, drove by a subdivision of brick homes to “a pair of decaying houses that seemed abandoned. Screens 44 n Chapter Four were torn, doors were half off their hinges, the paint looked decades old; the inside was bare, dirty, gray, and dark. So many workers lived here, Father Tony said, that they slept in the hallways.” At another camp, “the men’s bathroom had one sink, four toilets in full view, and four showerheads in a stall too cramped for four people to shower at once. The women’s bathroom had the same arrangement, with two toilets and two showerheads. It looked as if nothing had ever been cleaned or repaired. There was no privacy, no comfort, not even the quiet sense of sparse simplicity that could be found in a primitive village.” Throughout the country, immigrants are living in makeshift shelters or rundown trailers. In Colorado, workers at the Perdue Sandstone Quarry were housed in broken-down school buses, and used water from a hose for drinking and bathing, while in Siler City, North Carolina, writer Paul Cuadros reports, “a family of six was paying $450 a month for a house where the toilet constantly overflowed, the floors were soft, and there was no heat or hot water in the winter.” Living conditions in such places pose health and safety issues for children, especially. A pediatrician reports that one child received a bad shock when his metal bed was on top of a live wire, and a trailer park was recently closed because of the presence of open sewage. In Rose Hill, North Carolina, four men live in an old gas station that has been converted into living space with a bare cement floor and no kitchen. The former restrooms of the station serve as bathrooms. The rent? $240 a month.2 Residents don’t often complain, however, because like employees that put up with abuse in the workplace, they’re too afraid of deportation. It’s not just in the countryside that living conditions are bad. A recent New York Times article described the situation in one Long Island town: “Farmingville has been torn for several years as thousands of Mexicans, many of them illegal aliens, flooded into its mostly white working-class neighborhoods. Longtime residents often complain about throngs of men congregating on sidewalks, waiting to be hired for the day, and about blight they say is caused by overcrowded flophouses.” In another community, with the help of the police, officials succeeded in “arresting a landlord and closing a 900-square-foot single-family house for safety violations. Inspectors said they found 44 beds and that up to 64 men had stayed there.”3 Marilyn Rosenblum of Katonah, New York, complains that in her area, landlords take advantage of immigrants, who “pay top dollar” for apartments in which twelve or fifteen people might live, “sharing dangerous spaces with poor or no heat and dreadful or nonexistent sanitary facilities.”4 The need for adequate housing is critical throughout the country, but it is the immigrant population, especially Hispanics, who suffer the most. Statistics show that immigrant working families are almost...


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MARC Record
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