Jose Salazador is nervously watching the encroaching growth of the far south East Valley. The seasonal farmworker said the long growing season of central Arizona enables him to stay in one place while working different crops, rather than moving from state to state.
The steady work has afforded him the American Dream — homeownership and a chance to put down roots for his four children.
But as cotton fields become housing developments seemingly overnight, seasonal farmworkers like Salazador grow concerned they will need to pull up those burgeoning roots — and return to the life of the migrant farmworker.
Stories like Salazador’s were common Sunday during the Queen Creek Unified School District’s seventh annual Farm Worker Appreciation Day.
J.R. Cardenas knows firsthand the hardships of migratory farming. The Univision television host worked side-byside with his parents and five brothers picking tomatoes, onions, grapes, squash, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower from Yuma to Salinas, Calif.
"It’s hard to make friends," he said, "and to stay ahead in school."
Cardenas said he considers himself to be among the lucky ones because his parents allowed him and his five brothers to stop traveling between Arizona and California and put down roots.
"My parents kept traveling and we stayed in Yuma," he said. "We had too many babysitters to count and we took care of each other."
Many migrant families aren’t financially able to allow the children to stop traveling and as a result "you have kids who can’t read or they are doing math at the third-grade level when they should be in fifth grade," said Rita Andre, a representative with Arizona Workforce Connection, which helps workers develop job search techniques.
Edward de Santiago spends his days with the Arizona Department of Agriculture educating farmworkers on the risks of pesticides to their children.
"We are seeing a significant increase in cancer of children whose parents are migrant farmworkers and the incidents are even higher for kids who work in the fields," de Santiago said.
Information on the dangers of pesticides, workmen’s compensation, family literacy and Social Security benefits was readily available to those who attended Sunday’s celebration.
The farmworkers who showed up, however, aren’t the ones most in need of outreach efforts. Most are seasonal workers, meaning they only travel between crops and not states. Their children attend one school and the families have access to social services through the Queen Creek district’s Family Literacy Program.
"The migrant workers are harder to find because many are undocumented and don’t want to be found," said Melissa Rodis, a lawyer with Community Legal Services.