With a line around the block to enter the event, people like Imperial County Sheriff Ray Loera, local farmer Mike Abatti and the Calexico FFA members rolled up their sleeves to help serve roughly 3,000 farmworkers.
“Without their help, we couldn’t get things done so you work together. That’s what the community is built on, cooperation,” Abatti said. “When people work together, everything works.”
“When you have a salad in New York in November or December it’s from here,” Imperial County Supervisor John Renison said in agreement. “Our impact is all over the place.”
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Calexico resident Loli Torres helped found the event 33 years ago after seeing firsthand the difficulty of the job through her work with the state Employment Development Department.
“Seeing what hard work they do in all types of weather, it’s a way to say thank you,” she said. “It’s very unique, very hard work. You see a 22-year-old person who seems 30.”
More than 300 volunteers help make the well-orchestrated event happen. It’s hosted by the EDD, Center for Employment Training, Farm Worker Services Coalition of Imperial County, the city of Calexico, the Consulate of Mexico in Calexico and the Calexico Chamber of Commerce with various sponsors that mostly include local farmers.
Farmworker Angela Soto and most of her family have worked in Imperial Valley fields for years and enjoys the breakfast year after year.
“I’m very grateful for all the people who do this event for the people who work in the fields,” she said in Spanish after finishing breakfast Thursday.
“It shows how much the community comes together to express our appreciation for our farmworkers,” EDD Imperial County Manager Martha Escobar said. “There’s not a whole lot of people who like to do that work.”
The majority of farmworkers leave their homes around midnight or 1 a.m. to begin the often arduous process of crossing the border into downtown Calexico, which uniquely stays alive with their presence night after night.
They then wait to be picked up for work and are transported to Imperial Valley fields, often cold and wet in the morning’s dew before actually beginning work around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., hours after leaving their homes.
The work is often somewhat dangerous, working quickly with sharp tools and often hunched over to cut or pull the Valley’s various crops for hours, most typically making minimum wage. Workers begin to head back early evening only to briefly rest before starting the whole process over again that night.
Victor Rios, 56, has been working in the fields for 40 years, usually leaving home at 2 a.m. and returning around 5 p.m.
Claudia Rodriguez described a similar schedule, saying she usually leaves home at 1:30 a.m., begins work at 7 a.m. and then may get home around 9 p.m. that night. She’s been working in the fields for 12 years and coming to the breakfast for three or four years.
Rodriguez said she appreciates the breakfast before starting the long day of work.
Calexico Fire Inspector Humberto Felix volunteered at the breakfast Friday and said he worked in the fields himself from when he was 12 until he was 16 years old.
He enjoyed the work and opportunity to make money but his father urged him to go to school so he didn’t have to work in the fields as a career.
Workers bundled in layered clothing filled long, decorated tables together to enjoy hot drinks and food while a live band played in the background before they left to line up on the sidewalks for work.
“It’s a very long day and very hard work … When we go out and eat at a table, we can, because they’re here to help,” CET Director Elvira Anaya said.
Farmworkers often face unique challenges beyond the actual labor itself such as language barriers and a hesitance to seek out services they’re entitled to.
Consul of Mexico in Calexico Gina Andrea Blackledge Cruz noted that the consulate offers a wide variety of resources specific to farmworkers including health resources through Ventanilla de Salud, education on farm workers’ labor rights and legal assistance.
“(The breakfast) is important to the City of Calexico because through the doors of Calexico, these international doors, workers walk into the Valley to give of themselves, their hard labor, their sweat, their tears to bring quality fruits, vegetables and other crops to those of us that live not only in the Imperial Valley, but to the state of California and the nation as well,” Mayor Maritza Hurtado said. “This is just a small, very small token of appreciation of what these people really deserve from us.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or email@example.com