March for Fair Treatment: UFW in Madera

FRESNO -- María Escutia vividly remembers her first meal in the United States: a hot dog and a glass of water. When she fled her native Guadalajara, Jalisco 25 years ago, she wanted the opportunity to find a job in order to support her four younger siblings who were abandoned by their mother at an early age. As a single mother herself, she also needed to support her three children.

"Every time I talk about my past, I realize how far I've come," said Escutia, 45.

Dressed in comfortable attire at Courthouse Park in Madera on Aug. 23, Escutia wore a red shirt with the logo of the United Farm Workers (UFW), a large straw hat and tennis shoes. Around her neck hung the image of César E. Chávez.

Escutia and dozens of people gathered to begin their 13-day pilgrimage to Sacramento with the hope Gov. Jerry Brown will sign a bill that will allow fieldworkers access to better working conditions and higher wages.

When Escutia lived in México, she was desperate to escape her poverty so she hired a coyote for $200 to bring her to the United States.

"I just remember the driver telling me to hide in the back of his truck that was full of fruit. He warned me not to leave until the truck stopped completely," Escutia said.

After enduring long days with nothing to eat or drink, she was ejected from the truck at a park in Chicago, Illinois where she wound up living in a cardboard house that a homeless man in the park helped her make.

"He was my angel. He was the first person I met in the United States and the first person who talked to me, took care of me and asked me not to become a homeless person like himself," she said.

After spending five more days without food or water, she walked through the city until she managed to convince the owner of a small restaurant that she could wash dishes in exchange for a simple meal. It was then she enjoyed that first hot dog.

"I'll never forget that first meal," Escutia said with tears in her eyes.

Several days later, she met a Latina woman on the street who offered her a job as a caregiver for an elderly woman from a rich Italian family. She accepted the job with a weekly stipend of $100 in cash. For five years, she worked with the Italian family who provided her with free room and board. It was during this time she learned to speak Italian too.

"I worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Italian family was very nice to me and they trusted me a lot," Escutia said.

During her walks around the city she heard comments from Latinos in the area who were flocking to live in California because work in the agricultural fields paid a lot more. She packed her bags and left. When she reached California, she noticed one major difference between she, and her coworkers. They didn't enjoy working in the fields and she did.

"I felt an incredible freedom. The only thoughts that came to mind when I was working was my beloved México," she said.

Today, Escutia continues to work in the fields, despite the problems people working there, face. For these injustices, Escutia has decided to march to Sacramento.

She hopes the governor will listen to their requests.

"I was fired from my job when I told my boss I was going to participate in this march. When I finish this march, I'll have to find a new job. However, I think this is the legacy left by César Chávez. He fought for our rights without caring about what could happen and we must do the same," Escutia said.

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