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Beyond the Furrows: Guadalupe’s relationship with agriculture

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Francisco Martinez
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KCBX

Inside one of Guadalupe's grocery stores, like La Estrella, you're bound to see a farmworker.

“Yeah, they're just a lot of hardworking people and — tremendous respect to them,” said Murad Alamari. “They've been doing it for a lot of years and they have great character. There's a lot of character in Guadalupe.”

Alamari has been working at La Estrella for four years and is now a manager there. He said his customers — most of them Latino and many of them farmworkers — are what make Guadalupe, Guadalupe.

“It's a really nice town — really good people. I enjoy working here,” Alamari said. “And there's a lot — there's a lot of hard-working people that come in here. And all around, I really appreciate the people here in Guadalupe.”

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Credit Francisco Martinez
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Francisco Martinez
Guadalupe Mayor Ariston Julian.

A couple of blocks over, inside Guadalupe's laundromat, the town’s character shines through even more.

Erika Lemus is the laundromat's manager. She said she sees farmworkers come in right as the laundromat is closing, shoes covered in mud from working, asking if they can wash their clothes. Those farmworkers tell her it's the only time they have to do their laundry.

“It's admirable, the way these people work — day and night without stopping, and it doesn't matter,” Lemus said. “They're uplifting their families, their children, their life goals.”

KCBX spoke with several farmworkers at the laundromat, none of whom wanted to be recorded and all of whom chose to remain anonymous. One said life as a farmworker is boring and tiring, because much of his time is taken up by work. And all of them said farmworking is a hard lifestyle.

One person who knows that first-hand is Ariston Julian, who grew up in the town. He worked as a farmworker, as did his family.

There were minimal breaks, he said, and farmworkers would work straight through their shift because they were paid by the piece.

“So you had a real strong work ethic based on hard work,” Julian said. “You’d work — you’d get up at five o’clock in the morning to start work at six. You work until, sometimes, two — three o’clock straight.”

Julian is now Guadalupe’s mayor, and sees that work ethic in his town every day. He echoed what Lemus said: Migrant farmworkers toil to support themselves and their families.

“A good portion of the farmworkers here, actually, when they do make money, they send it back to Mexico,” Julian said. “So there's a strong connection between here — in the United States — and Mexico.”

And the town's connection with Mexico continues as people migrate into the United States and into Guadalupe to make a better life for themselves.

"You have a lot of farmworkers that are bringing their — their family over from Mexico, because it's still tough in Mexico, Julian said. “You still see that.”

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Credit Francisco Martinez
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Francisco Martinez
Inside a laundromat in Guadalupe.

But Julian said it's not just Mexico that Guadalupe has a connection with. When Julian was a kid, his father was a "crew boss." He remembered his dad bringing crews of Filipino farmworkers to cut lettuce across the area. Julian himself is half-Mexican and half-Filipino.

Filipino farmworkers worked alongside their Mexican counterparts. That, Julian said, helped bring a sense of camaraderie and established the foundations of Guadalupe today.

“It built in us that ability to work hard to work with people,” Julian said. “And then to actually — because of the integration with the Latinos and the Filipinos and the Portuguese and the Japanese — even today, you see Filipino friends, you see the Japanese friends, you see Portuguese friends — so that built in us the ability to work with one another, regardless of race.”

Life in Guadalupe does have its problems. The mayor said homes are overcrowded because many farmworkers earn low wages and can’t afford to have a place of their own.

On top of that, Guadalupe is a youthful town. The average age of a resident is 28, according to Julian, and 37% of the population is under 18. That means extensive youth resources are necessary, and not always available. It’s why education is a focus for the mayor, who is currently working to expand pre-K childcare for the town’s children.

“If we don't hit those kids early on, they're going to fall behind as they go through the school system,” Julian said.

Having grown up in Guadalupe, Julian said he's seen the various elements that have come together to make up this town. He described Guadalupe as a big room with many doors.

“These different doors are coming into the same room. So, you have a mixture of different ideas, different cultures, different races, different requirements, different needs,” Julian said. “I think it's one of positiveness in the sense that, for the most part, we try to all work together in that one room, regardless of which door you come into.”

Many of the doors Julian mentions open into the town’s establishments. One of those places is the laundromat. Erika Lemus knows that.

"Obviously, everyone has to do their laundry," Lemus said.

"Beyond the Furrows" is made possible by a grant from the Sunflower Foundation. 

Francisco Martinez joined KCBX in January 2021 as a substitute staff announcer, then became a regular midday host, occasional reporter, and host of Citizen Sound — the alternative music show each Sunday night at 11:00 on KCBX. Francisco left KCBX to move back to the Bay Area in January 2022.
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