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Breakfast served to Valley farm workers

December 07, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — "La Cola! La Cola!"

A 20-something Latino man wearing a Southern Cal baseball cap looked back at those in line who were shouting in his direction.

The man smiled a guilty grin.

Alfredo Hill of Mexicali looked at him and said, "Cola, Cola" and watched him skirt toward the front of the line.

Once the man in the cap got toward the front, he talked with a man who was standing off to the side of the line.

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After a brief conversation, the man in the cap started walking back toward the end of the line.

On his way he was serenaded with whistles and shouts of "El Colin!" as he passed the field workers in front of whom he had tried to cut.

"Que hablar?" a guy waiting on line said to him and laughed.

The man in the cap smiled broadly, shook his head and kept walking toward the back.

Hill had joined the line at 3:10 a.m. when it was still running down Third Street.

The contract field worker with Sierra Packing and his fellow field worker Alfredo Alarcon were waiting to pick up a free breakfast.

More than 1,000 field workers stood in front of the two waiting for free breakfasts as well.

The majority didn't take kindly to guys who cut in line.

This morning marked the 22nd year that the state Employment Development Department has staged the Farm Worker Appreciation Breakfast, passing out a free breakfast to farm workers as a way of saying thank you for their work.

What started with just a handful of EDD employees offering coffee and sweet bread to a small number of workers in 1979 has grown into a well-organized and comprehensive charitable outreach for migrant field workers.

Friday's crowd of around 3,500 could have been the biggest turnout ever, according to an EDD spokeswoman.

The event attracts volunteers from all over Southern California.

One of those volunteers, Walter Champ, greeted Hill and Alarcon shortly after the Mexicali residents had started waiting in line on the Third Street sidewalk.

Champ, San Diego-based director of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was passing out pamphlets detailing the rights of migrant workers.

Hill and Alarcon both took a pamphlet, looked it over and tucked it away.

In the hour that the two waited in line for breakfast, they were handed a bumper sticker, a free newspaper, business cards and a list of phone numbers from the Mexican consulate.

They dutifully accepted each item and put the items in their pockets.

Around 3:20 a.m. the line was moved so that it snaked around the corner of Third and Heffernan Avenue and cleared the way for traffic.

In the jostling for position there were many cries of "Cola!, Cola!" as people jogged ahead to move up a few spots.

After the order of the line shook itself out, Hill and Alarcon stood waiting in front of an Alex Furniture window. They didn't move for awhile as the swarm of line cutters made its way forward slowly.

Every once in a while a person who had picked up breakfast would walk by and smile at those who still had to wait.

His hands jammed into his denim jacket, Hill pretty much ignored all that was going on around him and silently shuffled forward. Sometimes he would talk briefly with Alarcon but for the majority of the time the two waited in silence.

After an hour, they made it to the front of the line.

In the parking lot of the EDD building, a radio station had set up speakers and people were eating under a tent.

Inside the building, a host of volunteers greeted the two men with big smiles and healthy portions of food.

All the city councilmen and officials such as City Manager Richard Inman helped dish out spoonfuls of beans or set up cups of soda.

Others who were there helping: Alex Perrone of the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program, Imperial Irrigation District officials, Jose Leon of McDonald's and candidates for local political offices.

In all there were more than 50 sponsors for the event who donated time or supplies.

Hill and Alarcon held out matching white Styrofoam clamshell trays as volunteers piled on tamales, salad, beans and cake.

They both picked up a little cup of McDonald's coffee and headed toward the exit and then toward their bus, where they would sit down and eat.

Alarcon said they had to be at the bus by around 5 a.m. From there the two would be taken to a field near Mount Signal to pick cauliflower.

They walked briskly down Third Street to the waiting buses on Imperial Avenue.

Alarcon, 37, said he has been working in the fields since he was 21. He's got two kids at home.

When asked why he only had two, he laughed and said, "They're expensive."

Hill, 46, smiled in agreement.

"He's got four," Alarcon said.

Once at the bus, Hill, a 10-year veteran of the farm fields, hustled aboard right away to get a seat. Alarcon showed some of his buddies the warm breakfast he had just picked up.

Alarcon said they would get back from work at around 5 today.

"Yes, a 16-hour day," he said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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