Roberto Rosales came to the United States as a migrant worker. After picking for about 30 years, he has gone from migrant to landowner, and he's a familiar, smiling face at local farmers' markets. IPR caught up with him in Elberta.
The Long Road To Here
His customers probably don't know just how many years of picking under the sun it took to get to here. They also probably don't know that he's from a small town, or pueblo, in the central Mexican state of Durango. It is very poor, and one of the least populous areas in the country.
"You work over there and only they pay about five dollars a day," Rosales says of his hometown. "I mean you can't do much with that, you know."
He left for the United States 30 years ago, seeking a better life for himself and the family he knew he would one day have. Rosales has pulled 60-hour work weeks nearly every week for the past 10 years for about $300 pay.
Eventually he saved enough to buy tree-trimming equipment to start his own business. He used that profit to buy his own plot of land on which he harvests mostly blueberries, but also tomatoes, corn, peppers and other plants. Now he and his family, including his wife, a young son and a married daughter, live in Manistee County.
"I think we're going to be the biggest grower in blueberries around here," he says.
He sells about 3,500 pounds of blueberries a week. In addition to that and his tree trimming business, the entrepreneur also owns a store in Bear Lake. It usually sells both Mexican and American products, tortillas and Mexican candies alongside phone cards and soda. But because of financial constraints, this summer he's only been selling his produce.
For non-Hispanics in the area, it's a place to buy authentic tamales and salsa. And for Hispanics, he says it's a taste of home.
"People see each other there," Rosales says of his store. "Sometimes they sit outside. And sometimes you see the little crowd there. And basically it's the same as the old country, the way we used to do it."
The American Dream
Rosales says he's living the American dream, which he longed for in Mexico. But he admits his English isn't perfect, even though he took classes to learn to read, write and speak. This, combined with the color of his copper skin, has led to some discrimination over the years. He thinks some customers expect him to come down on his prices.
"One thing about a lot of people, a lot of local people, they don't like the idea that I'm going to get on top of them," he says.
Rosales's skin color doesn't matter to Josh Breitner. Breitner's family had long been in the business of cattle and field crops, but as that became less profitable, an opportunity arose to switch to farming fresh fruits with Rosales's help.
"You know, besides just work time, we spend a lot of extra time together just getting projects done and taking time," Breitner says. "He helped my brother remodel a new house he was moving into. So he was there any time he could help out, and more just as a friend than as a business partner."
Rosales says he plans to work hard as a farmer until he can't anymore. He looks at his son playing in the distance and describes why the long hours are worth it.
"He's going to go to college and all that, but at least he knows, someday whatever he goes to college for, if someday he doesn't come ahead for some reason that he can turn around and come back and do whatever he knows," he says.
In the future, Rosales would like to take the profits from his businesses to expand his Bear Lake store with an authentic Mexican restaurant.