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Sending money home.

At Project PPEP, I was an intake worker trying to find jobs for the farm workers. My boss said that we needed workers to go to Maui, and we started to joke that I was going to go and wear a hula skirt and all that stuff. Within a week, we had a meeting and my boss said, "If there's an employee who wants to go, now is the time." So I looked at my supervisor and she said, "Go for it." So within a week I got ready and I came.

I like the adventure, the idea of going somewhere I would never go on my own. I was going to make more money, plus I could keep my job -- my boss put me on a leave of absence. My mom packed me up. She said, "It's an opportunity for you. You'll get out of here and you'll see something that you're not going to ever see otherwise, and you've got me to take care of the kids. What are you waiting for?"

The hard part for me was knowing I wasn't going to see my kids for a couple of months. I have three kids -- my older girl is 22, my son is 17 and my other daughter is going to be 15. But I'm a single parent, and I've always had to work. And I knew I was going to be back.

At the cannery. I was supposed to come as a cook, but two days before I left they called me and said they needed supervisors to work in the cannery. So I ended up as a supervisor.

At the beginning the cannery work was killing me, especially standing up all day. The first month or so was real hard because I wasn't used to it. In the past I had done farm work in Arizona, Texas, California and Colorado. One of my uncles is a labor contractor, and we worked with him. I started working in the fields when I was about 15, I guess. I'd do it for a while, and then I'd find something better and I'd go into that. But when you don't do that kind of work for a long time, you just get out of shape. I also had to get used to getting up early again. We started work at 6:30, so you had to wake up at 4 o'clock and hit the road by 5:30 to get there in time.

My job at the cannery was to make sure the girls got to work and to help them with any problems. After a while, I did a little bit of the training of the girls who weren't English-speaking. And when other girls came who were bilingual, they took a couple under their wings and got them udjusted.

One of the girls in particular didn't speak any English. She understood a few words, enough to get by but not enough even to carry on a conversation for somebody trying to train her. With me being bilingual, I could at least tell her in Spanish, "Do this. This is what this button does. You press buttons and it brings the pallet up or it brings it down, or you go sideways, or forward." I explained to her in Spanish, which made it a little bit easier for her. She caught on real good.

The ladies in the warehouse, where I worked, went out of their way to make you feel welcome. And the guys were real nice -- they came up to me and spoke to me. I never felt like a stranger.

A chance to save. The women cannery workers live at the (Maui Pineapple Co.) women's dorm in Makawao. It's nice -- it's big, and it's roomy. We have our meals cooked for us. You have your breakfast there, and you have your lunch packed for you, and supper waiting when you get home. So all you have to do is work and come home and do whatever you have to do.

When I did farm work on the mainland we went with family, because my uncle is a contractor, and we always had somebody there that we knew. But the consolation of coming here is knowing that you are coming to a job, and you have a home, and you don't have to worry about where you are going to find rentals, and you don't have to worry about food either. Everything is taken out of your paycheck.

The advantage of a program like this is that it's steady employment. These people know they're going to come over and they're going to be working -- maybe in the fields, maybe in the cannery -- but it's steady work. And in Arizona, people were just barely starting to work. It was either too cold or raining. If you're a farm worker (on the mainland), there's periods where you don't work for two to three weeks at a time.

With these ladies working overtime a lot at the cannery, you'll make a lot of money. As an intake worker, I was making $4.83 an hour. In the cannery I made $8.14 an hour. The company provides the airline ticket for you, and you reimburse it little by little, by payroll deduction. The company takes out $5 a day for food, and $125 a month for rent. That's 200 and some dollars a month--that's a good deal. Where else can you go in Hawaii and pay $125 in rent and $5 a day for meals?

Especially if you have dependents, it will be worth your time to come over. When I was working here as a cannery supervisor, I was able to send home to my mother anywhere from $150 to $200 every two weeks, and I still had money left over to save. Of course, I didn't go shopping for expensive stuff. You have to cut down a lot. But if you know you're saving for a purpose, it's great.

The Maui experience. Maui is really something else. All this water -- it's beautiful. And you get to see a different culture. It's totally different from what you see on the mainland, especially in Arizona. You get to meet a lot of people, and make friends and see the sights. We did a lot of sightseeing the last time we were here.

One of the ladies here on Maui took us under here wing. She's Mexican and her husband is Hawaiian, and they're invited us to their home. She took us to Hana the first time we went. And then a lady in Kihei organized a dance for the 15th of September last year -- the Fiestas Patrias, that's Mexican Independence Day. We had a dance and dinner.

Making the program better. Toward the end of my contact last year, they said they wanted me to come back in February as the women's coordinator and stay to December. So I said, "Sure, I'll try it." So last December I went back to my job as an intake worker and I worked until the 20th of February, and I gave my two weeks' notice that I was coming back to Maui. But my boss knew in November, because he came over to see how the girls were doing. I told him, "I'm going to come back, so I'm giving you about four months' notice."

It's more money, of course, and when you're a single parent, you have to look out for what you have. And there's a big difference between being an intake worker and being a coordinator, even in the title. As coordinator, I'll be ordering supplies, making sure the house runs smoothly, and taking care of any problems the women might have, like taking them to the doctor, or doing their banking for them. And I'll meet with Gladys and Skip, to see if there are any problems with the plant that we can get together and work out. We've just barely started this, and we want to try to make it better for the ones coming over next time.
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Title Annotation:Maria Magdalena Ortega, coordinator of Maui Pineapple Co.'s women's mainland worker dormitories
Publication:Hawaii Business
Article Type:Biography
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:1350
Previous Article:Looking for labor.
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