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Putting down roots.

The economic situation in Mexico is really critical. While I was at the university, the Bank of Mexico told us that it's going to be more and more hard for professional people. I taught English and biology, but with those earnings I couldn't support our life in Mexico. It was really hard to return to farm work when I had finished with the university and was a teacher. But I didn't have a choice, because I have two kids. And the salary in Mexico was not enough. That's the reason we wanted to come to the United States.

I started doing field work in Imperial Valley, in California. After that, I was a supervisor for the field workers. When we received the notice about the Hawaii program, I thought it would be better to try another state besides California, because maybe there would be more opportunities.

When the other workers and I arrived here, we really felt a difference between Hawaii and California. We saw more opportunities here for everybody. In California I tried to move ahead, but there are too many people. They're harvesting (in Imperial Valley), and everyone wants to stay there, so it's hard for everyone. If you go to Huron or Salinas, or other cities in California, you see the same thing. There's too much competition, and the earnings too are different. You make less, because of the competition. But when you come here, you can find a better job.

Maui Land and Pineapple gave us good opportunities. Some of the guys right now are truck drivers, tractor drivers, or they work in the garage. Others are supervisors. From the first day, we could see the difference.

Early days on Maui. At first, I worked in the fields, picking fresh fruits. The people here thought the Mexicans didn't know anything about trucks and tractors -- they thought the Mexicans didn't have this equipment. But I drove the tractor, and then I came in and learned about the cannery. I was working in the palletizer area, loading with the machine. I was also working part-time for Maui Economic Opportunity. In August, I went to the mainland to visit my family, and then Gladys called me to be the coordinator here.

In September, when I came back, I thought it would be better if I brought my family here. I called my wife and said, "I will call you and when everything is ready, you can come." They arrived here in November, and the kids started school, and MEO helped my wife get a work permit. She's working now -- she helps in the kitchen in the men's dorm.

Coordinating the workers. As the coordinator, I'm in charge of the men. I find part-time jobs for them, to keep them busy. If they have to go and see the doctor, or open a checking account, or have problems on the job, I;m there. I'm in charge of the dorm too; I make schedules about the weekly use of the company vans, and the laundry, and who will be in charge of cleaning the house every day.

I see the program working better every day. When I arrived here it was confusion, because nobody was in charge. We had supervisors in the field, but nobody cared about the dorm, and nobody cared about all the different things that the company let us use. And I think the laborers are feeling better, because now somebody's in charge.

The most important thing for me is that I have found good friends here. My bosses are my good friends--this is for real, it's not lies. Gladys, Skip, (Maui Pineapple Co. Plantation Manager) Doug MacCluer, (MEO Deputy Director) Don Medeiros--they are really human people.

We need time to have good relations between the local people and us. It's the same as when the Chinese came, or the japanese came, many years ago. Right now the Mexicans arrive here, and the local people feel that something's happening, right? They cannot say, right away, "Welcome to Maui!"

Sometimes at work we have problems about who is the best or (arguments like) "You don't like Chinese food," or "What do you think about Mexican food?" or "You don't know anything about us!" You know, all this stuff. But the process is continuing and I think it's getting better.

I try to have good communication with the local people. One problem is when local people think all of the Mexicans are the same. Some of the guys can be bad people, some of the guys can be good people. But then the news in the morning says, "The Mexican groups did this or that." It's not all the Mexicans! And I try to explain to the local people that if a Mexican came and did something wrong, I'm really sorry. But sometimes they say, "Oh, well, it's 'the Mexican problem.'" But that's not true.

Changing times. The last year has been a lot of pressure, for sure. Because many things changed at the same time. I came to Maui, and I missed my family, and I had to learn a different language. It's been hard, every day. But I can say that I like Hawaii. I like Maui. It's really different, and I enjoy the people here. They are 'more better,' the people here. And the climate is really good. Maui is a good place to live and bring the family to. I have two sisters in California, and I tried to convince them to come here, but they have families and they don't want to change right away.

My wife likes Maui too. She enjoys her job but she's looking for other opportunities. And I don't blame her; I think that's OK. She wants to be in business, and Maui is a good place to make a business. Maui receives plenty of tourists, and the local people don't know too much about Mexican foods, and we can try in different ways to make a business here. Maybe make shirts with stamps from Mexico, you know, "Viva Mexico!" Or bring some of the culture from Mexico--the mariache bands or Mexican dancers. And I would like to go to school again and get a master's degree in business administration.

If I hadn't come to Maui, I would be looking in the same way as I am here, for better opportunities. Maybe I would have gone to the university, and applied to study again, part-time. It would have been harder--but you've got to try harder anyway.
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Title Annotation:Juan Alfonso Gonzalez Camacho, coordinator of Maui Pineapple Co.'s men's mainland worker dormitory, brings family to Maui
Publication:Hawaii Business
Article Type:Biography
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:1086
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