Wednesday’s work day was different for the sisters Magda and Adriana Gonzalez, who have worked with G&G Orchards for three years in the Yakima Valley alongside their mother, Teresa, 42, who also works in the warehouse.
Normally, the Gonzalez women pack apples from 8 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., but Wednesday brought a new routine when Mexico’s President Vicente Fox arrived at the Garcia-owned farm with his secret service, his wife and Washington state’s governor, Chris Gregoire.
The conveyor belts where the Gonzalez women worked were stopped for almost an hour so they and other workers could welcome Fox to the farm. The president then had the opportunity to tour the warehouse and greet and talk with the workers.
“It gives me joy to see him,” said Magda, 18. She and her 16-year-old sister have been working with the Garcias for three years.
Others were looking forward to the visit, too. Many of the women were wearing their best outfits and wore high heels as they sorted through the apples on the conveyor. The workers, including Magda and Adriana, waited for the president’s arrival with great smiles and some anxiety.
Apart from the smiles, the workers had hopes that Fox would have solutions for the problems facing farm workers and immigrants who live in the United States.
“I’m excited (Fox) is coming, so he can see what people are talking about over the immigration issue,” said Jose Luis, 26, an undocumented worker, whose last name is not being used to protect his identity.
Various estimates claim that 70 percent of agricultural work is done by undocumented people.
Jose Luis moved to Yakima six years ago from the state of Michoacán in Mexico. He has worked with the Garcias since his arrival to this country.
Jose Luis, however, wasn’t satisfied with Fox’s speech, because he didn’t address much about immigration issues. Instead, he discussed more about education and foreign trade.
“I would have liked Fox to talk more about obtaining legal documentation,” Jose Luis said. “Little was dealt with immigration.”
Representatives from the Latino sector requested Fox to help put an end to injustices, racism and anti-immigration sentiments facing Mexicans through just reforms.
Thomas Villanueva, former official for the United Farm Workers organization, said immigrants are currently suffering from misery and injustices.
“They are the most affected right now in terms of abuses,” Villanueva said.
“Our people must live a life hidden and watching over their shoulder,” Villanueva said. “It’s a very distressing life.”
To resolve the situation with immigration and the discussion that is occurring in Congress, Fox said, people need to respect the government’s sovereignty. He said he’s confident Congress will make the best decision for the United States.
Though the president spoke little about immigration, people such as Villanueva said Fox’s visit will give new hope to Mexicans in the United States. The fact that the Mexican president came to the Yakima Valley has great significance, Villanueva said.
The visit wasn’t just a new experience for the workers and the owners of G&G Orchards, but it was the first time a foreign president made an appearance in the Yakima Valley. The visit was announced last week and organized by the office of Gov. Gregoire.
It’s exciting and an honor to represent the Yakima Valley, owner René Garcia said regarding the president’s visit. The Garcias said they were chosen for the visit because they are one of the few Hispanic-owned farms in the state.
Garcia and his wife, Carmen, took the opportunity to ask Fox to remove the tariffs on products imported to Mexico.
“Fox needs to help us out,” René Garcia said. “Somebody needs to help us out because our government is not doing it.”
G&G Orchards is paying a 46-percent tariff for the apples exported to Mexico, René Garcia said. With those tariffs the warehouse is losing $4 a box.
Fox was invited to Yakima with the intentions of encouraging the Mexican government to remove the high tariffs on imported apples from the United States and to witness the difficult work and the lives Mexican immigrants led, Gregoire said to the 300 people attending the event, held outside the warehouse. Many of the guests, who were leaders of the agriculture industry or of Latino services, were invited by the Garcia family and the Mexican consul in Seattle.
If the Mexican government would remove the high tariffs, it would be easier to employ Mexicans on U.S. farms, Carmen Garcia said.
“We all want to continue helping Mexico and our families that come from there and move to the United States,” she said.