Researchers on Saturday night began revealing the results of a two-year study of 12 immigrant families, most indigenous farmworkers living in Fresno County.
Nearly 40 community members joined the researchers at the Clinica Sierra Vista medical center in southwest Fresno for the presentation of the first of three in-depth reports.
Anthropological field researchers Anna Garcia and Jorge San Juan conducted the study with the mission to understand the day-to-day life of these 12 immigrant families and their daily struggles to overcome disadvantages of having some or all who live in households labeled as what the researchers called "unauthorized immigrants." Most of the families have lived in the U.S. for 10 to 25 years, the researchers said.
The research was sponsored by the Central California-based Binational Center for the Development of the Indigenous Communities and the Portland, Ore.-based Werner-Kohnstamm Family Giving Fund, whose stated mission is to support promising efforts to better the lives of economically and politically disadvantaged individuals, including immigrants.
One of the key findings is probably not a revelation for most: "Farmworkers are still living in poverty," Garcia said.
"Fifty years after we claimed we started a war on poverty, farmworkers -- who are putting the food on the table that we are eating everyday -- are still living in poverty because wages have not advanced, not to a degree where they can make a good living," she added.
Researchers discussed the possible advantages the families would have if immigration reform occurred. Even if there is no immigration reform, the researchers said, their study shows how to improve education and public health programs.
"There is a lot of diversity here in the San Joaquin Valley that a lot of decision makers in government and in the philanthropy community don't adequately understand," said Edward Kissam, co-trustee of WKF Giving Fund. "This is hopefully the beginning of an ongoing process to better understand the immigrant community."
Researchers said it was disconcerting that the majority of parents are not teaching their native tongue to their children. As a consequence, parents are being excluded from their children's daily conversations and lives because the children are immersed in the American culture and only speak in English.
Two boys in the audience understood that point. Ernesto Vasquez, 11, and his 10-year-old brother, Angel, who speak their family's native language of Mixtec in their Fresno home, said everyone should be proud of their cultural heritage.
"We shouldn't be embarrassed," Ernesto said. "It's important for our culture because it's getting extinct ... people don't want to show that they are from another region anymore."
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