Thank you so much to Ricardo Garcia, who has graciously contributed this guest post. Ricardo is a farmworker advocate and activist for the Yakima Valley in southeastern Washington, and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Radio KDNA, “the voice of the farmworker.”
by Ricardo García
The agricultural industry expanded greatly during the decades of the forties and fifties, and since then has not looked back!
Farmworkers started to arrive to Eastern Washington in big numbers during the early forties. They came seeking a better life for their families; they came to escape the hardships of the Mexican Revolution during the mid and late twenties.
First, the families had journeyed to Arizona to work in the copper mines. Life was very hard, full of discrimination because of language barriers and other racial factors.
Farmworker Families went North, then West
In the thirties, this group of about 400 farmworker families then went north, to Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, where they began harvesting crops. The sugar beet industry was big back then. However, winter time was harsh and made life very difficult for the families who were used to milder weather patterns.
The leadership of the families then ventured west in search of better climates and harvest fields. These scouts ended in eastern Washington State; liked what they saw and word went back to Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, telling everyone “there is plenty of work and good weather” in such places as Toppenish, Moses Lake, Warden, Wapato. Othello, Sunnyside, Grandview and other Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin towns. The sugar beet industry was very big in all of the places mentioned. The families migrated into the new harvest fields in late 1930s and early 1940s; they settled down in Wapato, Toppenish, Moses Lake, Othello, Warden. They harvested sugar beets, potatoes, apples and other bountiful fruits.
Work, Good Weather…and Radiation Exposure
These early laborers of Mexican descent worked in the harvest fields which were also in the downwind path of massive Hanford Nuclear Reservation radiation releases (fallout) during those years, the 1940s to l950s. You can also describe many of them as ‘Hanford Downwinders’…especially those residing in Sunnyside, Grandview, Othello, Moses Lake, and surrounding harvest field areas.
The agricultural industry, made up of many small growers, kept expanding and started to recruit farm workers from southwestern Texas. This new migration happened after the end of World War II…the mid forties. Many of
the migrant and seasonal farm workers from Texas labored in the same regions as did their Mexican counterparts, and were also exposed to Hanford’s radiation releases.
The Migrant Farm Worker Scoping Study (March 1, 1997- October 31, 1997) conducted by Drs Mary Kay Duffie and William Willard attests to their presence in the radiation affected harvest fields.