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California forces migrant farmworker students to move every year. 'We need to survive'

Mathew Miranda and Lindsey Holden, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LODI, Calif. — The Harney Lane Migrant Housing Center in Lodi hasn’t changed much since Lorena Perez Guzman arrived in 1998.

Most afternoons, work pants still hang on the clothes lines, dusty boots rest on doormats and children playfully run across the grass between the units. The center has been renovated over the years, but the overall layout remains the same.

Perez Guzman arrived at age 12, when her parents began working in the Central Valley and living in the state-subsidized housing from April to October. Each year, when the growing season ended, the center would close and the family of eight would return to their home in west central Mexico.

Migration took its toll on her education. She did not graduate from high school or learn to speak English fluently.

“We didn’t study,” said Perez Guzman, a third-generation migrant farmworker. “We just got (to Lodi) and were almost immediately on school break. And sometimes stayed working through the year and never went back to school.”

Perez recalled her early years, standing in the kitchen of her unit alongside her two youngest children. Back then, Perez Guzman dreamed of becoming a doctor or owning a business. It didn’t really matter. She just didn’t want to be a farmworker.

 

Now, at age 40, she still lives at Harney Lane with her partner and four children of her own. She spends most days in fields picking grapes and cherries.

California requires migrant farmworkers to leave state-funded housing centers every year at the end of the agricultural season. The centers close and remain empty for three to six months, the same way they have for decades, even though most farmworkers no longer migrate.

Perez Guzman’s kids, and thousands of others living in the centers, must continue bearing the brunt of the annual moves. Most bounce from one school to another every few months and receive instruction in two different languages.

This week, Perez Guzman and her family moved out of the center for the fifth straight year.

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