Will the Family Farm Survive?
July 17, 1975 – Joint Hearing before the Select Committee on Small Business and the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, US Senate, Washington DC
It is a great honor for me to be here and addressing the Senators. It is something that I never dreamed of.
My name is Jessie de la Cruz, and I come from Fresno, Calif. I will give you an idea of what I am and what I have been through. My childhood history is born in California, raised by grandparents who had seven children of their own, migrant farmworkers in the State of California, living under tents, beside river banks, out of cars, and gong hungry an cold, not enough. I never slept in a bed as a child. I always slept on the floor. I never had a chair to sit on until I was about 20 years old. I was married in 1938. I raised a family of four boys and two girls. Thee was always time, while not expecting a child, to work in the fields along with my husband because his wager were not enough to support a family.
What I am telling you right now is not only my history, but all farmworkers have gong through this. Many of these farmworkers moved to the city slums. They lived along with all farmworkers at labor camps and when growers were asked to raise the wages of farmworkers to 75 cents an hour, they said they could not afford the camps anymore, so they tore them down after we asked them to please repair them so ewe could live as human beings, one of these growers bring Mr. Russell Giffen, the other being Mr. Anderson Crayton, and all of the big growers around in Fresno County.
I state time and again that I measured Mr. Giffen’s land by the inch because I worked with an 8-inch hoe 10 hours a day, getting $7.35 after deduction out of 10 hours of work. After I got home, I had to clean the house, do the cooking and prepare things for the next morning. All of this time going from place to place. In times we did not work because there was no work available, or we had finished working at one place and we were looking for another job at another ranch, so in the meantime we were using up the money that we had managed to save which was not enough just barely to buy gas to cook for more work.
I loved in Huron for 15 years. At that time, when I was living there, we were told that a ne big canal was being built and that this would open the door for the poor people, that it would better the city of Huron. It has worked in reverse. Right now Huron is rated among the highest in venereal disease, illegal drugs, illegal entrants from Mexico doing the work that local people should be doing, and local people are not hired because they are asking for more wages and besides the labor contractor hires illegals for about 3 or 4 months, and they keep a part of their money, to save, when they are ready to be taken back to Mexico, but what they do, in many instances, is call the border patrol and have them sent across the borer losing the money that they earned, that the labor contractor keeps.
Another place that I feel is working against the poor people, the farmworkers, in Huron is something that happened recently. There is a man that has been working with the farmworkers, being a farmworker himself; he has helped through many social services all around Fresno County. He ran for city council. He had a petition of over half of the voting people in Huron where he lives, but the labor contractors and the businessmen voted against him, so his place they named one of the sons of the so-called buyers of Giffen lands, Jim Lowe. What has Jim Low’s son done for the farmworkers? Nothing, but what his father did. Exploit farmworkers, going along with Giffen and the others.
When we asked for land, they tell us, why? Why should farmworkers want land? They are not farmers. But the true farmer is the one that works the land, and this is the farmworker, if it was not for the farmworker, there would not be any vegetables of fruits or anything on your table without the farmworkers. True, machinery is coming and replacing many of the farmworkers, but there are still farmworkers there that are willing to work. May of them are forced to go on welfare because they cannot find any work because machinery has taken over, and yet those same people that are getting these Government subsidies, the Department of Agriculture, and others, and some of the public citizens out there or the citizens of the community, are yelling to the high heavens that all of these people are on welfare. They have been forced to go on welfare, so when we asked a man, he said it cannot be done, a small farmer cannot do anything. In other words, they are asking me, why do you want meat when you can have potatoes and beans. That is what it amounts to.
I will tell you now about our project. As our fathers and grandfathers before us who were also farmworkers migrated to this country from Mexico, they always dreamed about owning some of the land that they worked, but wagers being what they are they could never save enough money to buy this land. So, this dream was passed on to us. We never could do this either because the money was not there. So, I was the first one to start talking to people and asking them to attend some of the meetings that we were having. We got close to 200 families in about 3 months who wanted the land. So, it was publicized and some man came in from New York and he promised that he would have a festival for us, a musical festival, where he would raise millions of dollars so that we could buy this land. So, in the hopes of getting this land, we formed a committee and we talked to Mr. Giffen. We went to his office, and we told him that we were interested in buying the land, so he wanted to know. Where was the money, did we have the money. He was asking a million dollars as a downpayment, which is quite a bit of land, but we were not interested in the machinery that he was throwing in along with the cotton gins that we would have no use for. We did not plan on planting cotton.
So, this group of farmworkers, if he (Giffen) had been wiling to sit at the table with us and to discuss our problems and what he wanted, I am sure we could have arranged something, even we could have gone as far as to say, okay we will plant the land, you give it to us, we will plane the land, and every year after a harvest we will give you the money, because this is how we have lived all of these many years, so we could have worked for the land and given him the money. But he just looked at us like we were some naughty children, pulling some tricks.
So, as I started to say, when the canals were built out there, we were looking at it as a future for the farmworkers to form our family farms, but the big growers would look at the water and instead of seeing people and family farms, they were looking at dollar signs. Many of the farmworking families have moved. They are living in the most miserable places available for human beings. It is not fit for human beings. They live out in the slums in crowded houses, a small house for too large families. They sleep on the floor. During the day they are forced outdoors because there is no room in those houses, so they are left free to roam the streets. So, where does the crime come from if not young adults out in the streets until about the middle of the night because they cannot come home because it is to crowded, and it is too noisy.
But what some agencies are doing, they are hiring people to investigate crime while they should be using this money to put there families to work where they can support their families, where they can see their children out thee all day. This is what we have been doing. When we were promised this money, after we talked to Giffen, the people became discouraged because this man who came in fro New York disappeared. We never heard from him again. So, all the families just thought that they were just given the usual runaround, so they became discouraged, except for six families, my family being included.
We looked at 40 acres that were for sale out of the Westlands Water District.
THE CHAIRMAN. Outside?
MS. DE LA CRUZ. Yes, outside, so we looked at the land and they did not have ay well, they did not have a pump; the land needed to be leveled and we knew that it was going to run into quite a bit of money, money that we did not have. So we went to a program a war on poverty program, and we told them what we wanted to do. By this time, there were only six families left. We were able to borrow $5,000, but that year was very rainy and it was sometime in November or December when we wanted to level the land, and there was no time for the planting, so they could not do it, so we went o a friend of ours, rented 6 acres to these six families. All of the children went out, from the littlest to the oldest, were out there with their parents, including mine, and my grandchildren, my son-in-law and my daughters-in-law, would come out there and help us do the planting, the weeding, the harvesting, everything that it takes to run a farm. By the end of the harvest, we got $64,000. Of course, all of this money went back, and we were able to pay for 40 acres that we had looked at. We were able with this money to level the land, to dig a well, and get a used pump and start growing on our own 40 acres, and by this time there were only four families left, so we divided this 40 acres in four sections, and there are people here who have been to see our place and they are amazed at what we have been able to accomplish.
Right now, we have 10 acres; my husband and children, the ones at home and the ones that are married, and my children are doing the work. We did not plant the whole 10 acres, but the saddest part of it this year is that about 2 weeks ago, our pump broke, and we were without water for about 2 weeks. There is sandy soil out there, and we did not know it when the well was dug that we should have put in a concrete thing around it to keep the sand from going in, so just the pipe was put in and the sand caved in and there was a lot of pressure for the pump to get the water out of there, so it broke, and we have lost about half of our crop, but that does not mean that we are not going on .We have already looked into getting a new well and a pump and picking whatever harvest we can get. This pump is going to cost us $16,000. Four families have to pay for that, but I do not see why we have been treated as stepchildren of the country. The people that are rich, that have the money, get more money without doing anything. They do not work at all. They get free water, and us, that are just starting, get nothing. Ten acres is not enough to make a living. It is enough to give us work, but at the end of the harvest we do not have enough money to tide us over until after the planting season when we start harvesting again, and then to have things like this, the breaking of the pump, it is going to be quite some years before we can be able to move, and our hopes of buying a house that is for sale to be moved out to acreage where we can live there. Right now, we are traveling 40 miles a day, which is 20 miles from Fresno to Raisin City and back. That is a hardship, especially with gas prices what they are, and getting up earlier in the morning and going to bed later, and working, but I am not saying this as a form of a complain. I am just – I am very thankful to be able to work my own land and put the seed in and watch it grow and know that I have been doing this, while in the past, working in the field for 10 hours and spending about 2 hours going to work and another 2 hours coming back because many of the times we used to ravel 70 and 75 miles to work, we would come home dead tired, and I had to clean up the breakfast dishes and feed the children and get them ready for bed, and clean our supper dishes and then get things ready for the next morning’s breakfast and lunch, so we could get started on our way to work.
Some nights I just prayed, oh God, I do not want to wake up. Then I thought about my children, and I said, I cannot give up, so what I am asking right now is and what I am telling you is that I also had farmworkers are opposed to the Westlands contract, as they are written, and I would like to have you, and many of you people here present in this room, to come to the hearings in Fresno where the farmworkers will be there to talk to you. They cannot come all the way to Washington. But many of you can make the trip, and lease think about it and come out there and listen to us.
Also, I would like to thank you again for listening to me, and as I said, we need a change. We need a change for social justice, and we are looking to people like you to help us. Maybe, as it was mentioned, a program can be set up where we can have some money to buy some of this land. We do not want a handout. We will pay for every cent that we get. We just want to borrow it, and there are many, many families out there in the San Joaquin Valley who are asking for the same thing.
So I guess when I got to thinking about how I was forced to live, it is a sad thing, but now I am working for a brighter future for my children and myself.
THE CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much. We appreciate your taking the time to come and testify.
MS. DE LA CRUZ. If there is anything I missed, and you would like to ask.
THE CHAIRMAN. We will be having hearings out there in the Central Valley at a later date, and we will be hearing from a whole cross-section of people, including farmworkers. It is 1:25, so I think that we are going to have to move on. We have two more witnesses.
MS. DE LA CRUZ. All I can say now is that we want the land. We are ready for it. Thank you.
THE CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Source: U.S. Senate Joint Hearing before the Select Committee on Small business and the Committee on Interior and insular affairs. 94th Congress, 1st session., Part 1, Federal Reclamation Policy (Westlands Water District), 1975. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1975, 170-174.