OSGOOD — Leon Carrillo was getting some rest under the midmorning sun.
The grease smeared on his uniform and sweat beaded on his forehead were evidence his job as a machinery operator at Howard Taylor & Sons isn’t easy. Workdays on the farm can last anywhere from eight to 16 hours.
Carrillo leaned against a tractor and grinned. He joked with his co-workers in his native Spanish. Some of their hands were coated in thick wads of grease, but they played along.
As their laughter faded, Carrillo’s eyes drifted off to the cropland around him.
Carrillo, who recently turned 48, has worked in the United States for the past 18 years. When he was about 30, he says, he was laid off from his job in Mexico. Finding a new job in his native country was nearly impossible, he says, so he came to the United States. It was “la necesidad,” he says.
Carrillo says he had to borrow money to finance his immigration. Now, he says, he’s living the American dream.
An average of 12,200 Hispanics worked in agriculture statewide from July 2012 to June 2013 — about 32.4 percent of the total number of Idaho’s employed farmworkers, according to government data.
Carrillo says Hispanics play an undeniably important role in the farming industry, especially in the rich potato fields of Eastern Idaho. He thinks the region’s appreciation for Hispanics has grown during the past two decades.
Howard Taylor & Sons human resources manager Dan Gubler says he’s also noticed greater cohesion between Idaho’s U.S.-born and migrant populations. Gubler credits the children in those two demographic groups with becoming the common bond between native-born and migrant.
“There are a lot of kids in the schools, and they are a part of sports programs,” Gubler says. “If you come out to the soccer fields on a weekend, they’re packed. And that culture has spread to our culture.”
Gubler was born in Peru while his parents built churches for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He knew Spanish before English. He says he welcomes the integration of cultures.
“But what is American culture?” he says. “I mean, it’s a makeup of everybody who has come here from other places, because that’s who we are. [Hispanics] are a big part of it.”
Nonetheless, Gubler is not enthusiastic about the Senate immigration bill, now before the U.S. House of Representatives. He says the government has tried to provide amnesty while tightening the border with Mexico in the past but never follows through. He doesn’t think it will be any different this time.
“We’ve been down this path two or three times in my life,” he says.
One of Carrillo’s fellow machinery operators at Howard Taylor & Sons is 42-year-old Jose Canchola, who follows the immigration debate. Canchola says listening to the debate is one of the things he enjoys most about the U.S.
“Everyone is different, and everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he says, through Gubler’s translation.
The Latino immigrants fill jobs most Americans wouldn’t otherwise want to take, says Jesus Villalobos. Villalobos immigrated to the U.S. about 43 years ago and has worked on farms from Idaho to Michigan since.
Villalobos most recently picked and cleaned potatoes for Nonpareil Farms in Blackfoot for five years. He retired about a year ago. He says he rarely saw Americans working alongside him in the fields.
Villalobos believes most Americans opt for jobs that are higher paying and less demanding physically. But unskilled Latino migrant workers don’t have that choice, he says.
“They hire Latinos because Latinos will accept minimum wage,” he says. “It’s hard labor, because you are under the sun 12 to 13 hours a day.”
Gubler agreed. He says Latinos are vital to the success of local farms.
“Do I think [the industry] could survive [without Latinos]? I do, but who is going to be the individual to fill those roles?” Gubler says. “The dynamic is that my own children don’t want to do this. I don’t want to say they think it’s beneath them, but it’s hard work. If they think they can find something easier, they may try to want to do that.”
Many of these Latinos don’t realize they have workers’ rights, Villalobos says. He is a U.S. citizen, but he says it took a trip to a doctor about a year and a half ago for him to realize he could seek disability payments for a lifelong leg injury. Villalobos says his doctor told him he should have stopped working a decade ago.
Gubler says Latino immigrants such as Carrillo and Canchola risk injury and work their entire lives to provide a comfortable life for their children. He says he wishes politicians would see the workers in that light.
“For the most part, they’re keeping their noses clean and don’t cause problems,” Gubler says. “From my perspective, yeah, I think they get a bad rap.”
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