Living in America

Meet the neighbors

We have an apartment that's good enough for us, it's nothing special. All I really know about the States is working--that's all there is. That and the Mall of America.

 

Wes and Jackie Borgan

Wes:I've lived here all my life, and my parents have too. This wasn't really the West Side when I was growing up. The West Side was down the hill, and that's right where I was born. This was what we used to call the Hill, and now it's the West Side.

Basically it's become a Mexican neighborhood with whites and blacks, and a few Indians and Lebanese, and not so much Jewish, like there used to be on the lower West Side. On the lower West Side, almost every block there used to be a synagogue. And there were a few up here, but they're gone now. There used to be one just kitty-corner from here on this block, a really nice brownstone synagogue that's been turned into condos, but in those days they didn't do that sort of thing. That was probably almost 38 years ago. I'm 48 now, so that seems about right.

I'm a tailor for the Men's Warehouse in Woodbury, but we still live here. My ma lives across the street from me, and my sister lives next door, and her husband's father lives down the block. All my family lives really close. In my teenage years, you knew a lot more people around here. I believe there's more impermanence here now. But with all the families down here, you can almost find a way that you're related.

Before me and [Jackie] met each other, she went out with a Mexican guy and they had two Mexican sons. And my older son's kid is Mexican. All my sisters and brothers are married to Mexicans except me. One's married to a black, part-black, a mulatto. Almost all my nieces and nephews are Mexican, and I got one Puerto Rican nephew. So with all of that, my ma was married to a Mexican. It's really part of my family and it always has been.

Jackie:Well, I grew up in Bloomington and I came here 20 years ago. That's when it seemed like this huge influx of Latinos started happening too. And I used to hear, well, so-and-so doesn't like me because I'm white, but for me, I've been lucky because of my business, here at the [hair salon, West Side Hair Care], people will accept me. It's actually been my shop since 1994. I'm 49. We really need people that speak Spanish, so I have a lot of gals working here who are Latino, and that's good. But you're a minority if you're a white person here.

Wes:When I was a teenager, I had a few friends who came from Mexico and they didn't really speak English. When we'd be hanging out on the streets I'd teach them English and they'd teach me Spanish. I think racism goes every way, any group against another. And it's a sad thing that it's like that. If you say you're against someone's culture or something like that, it just becomes trouble for you in the end.

 

Fred Verdeja

We came here from Cosmos, Minnesota, and we had come from San Antonio before that. This was 1959. We were migrant workers. We did migrant work ever since I can remember, ever since I can have a memory.

I was migrant working and going out into the fields when I was five or six. The first fields I remember were cotton, in the outlying areas of Texas. I was approximately 12 when I came here in Minnesota, and it was primarily farming sugar beets and corn.

I'd have to get up about five o'clock in the morning because we didn't have running water in the apartments that were provided for the migrant workers. There was a pump outside maybe 50 feet away. The closest one was 50 feet and that was in Crookston. Others were much further away. But I had to go out, get the water, and bring it to my mom to make the coffee, breakfast, and lunch that would be packed for the people that were going to be working. So I got up at five.

In most places, the room was eight by eight. Usually they'd give us three of those rooms. We moved around, from shack to shack. Three rooms for 12 or 13 of us. It was what I imagined a cell block to be.

I can't really remember the pay, but it wasn't much. My mom never worked in the fields, but my dad and all of us kids worked; there were at least six or seven of us working the fields all the time. Mom was what I guess they would call a homemaker. She didn't really work a day in her life, but she had to make the lunches and whatnot. That was her work, but we didn't call it work then. My parents were born in the States; their parents were born in Mexico.

Once we came to the West Side, in fact it was the lower West Side, the real West Side, from then on there was no more migrant work. Well, there was a couple more times that I did do migrant work, and then it was potatoes. This was in the early '60s. There was some times we did go back and forth--in an old truck, all the families would ride in the back of that same one--between here and Texas. We went all over. In Oklahoma we did cotton. In Michigan we did apples and cherries. I think it was tomatoes in Arkansas. In Minnesota, we went to Cosmos, Hector, East Grand Forks.

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