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Working for a future

Javier Cobian has been working in the United States since 1978, and since 1991 on the Orem Ranch.

Life at ranch an improvement

March 28, 2006

Story and photos by Lee Juillerat  H&N Regional Editor

MERRILL - Javier Cobian will celebrate his 50th birthday this week.

He looks much older.

Life hasn't been particularly easy for Cobian, and those years of struggles are reflected by his tired eyes, subdued demeanor and wisps of gray in his mustache and day-old beard.

“My luck has not been good because I've been working here and there,” Cobian says. “In all these years I cannot remember how many jobs I've had. I work a year and half in one job, and look for another. Every new job you have to start all over again, from the bottom up.”

Cobian first arrived in the Tulelake Basin in 1978, from the Mexican state of Jalisco. He began working in potato sheds.

“It wasn't a very good job because the minimum wages were $2.35 an hour. It was hard to survive.”

Eventually he came to loathe being indoors, standing in the same spot day-after-day sorting potatoes.

“I was raised on the farm. I like being outside,” he says.

For many years he shuttled from job-to-job. On a whim, he signed up for classes that led to him becoming a U.S. citizen in 1987.

“I deal with some farmers and they don't treat you too good,” he says.

Life improved in 1991, when Cobian began working for the Orem Ranch, which has ranch and farm lands in the Merrill area. The Orems provide housing for some of their employees, including Cobian and his wife, Consuelo. During the fall harvest, she sometimes works seasonally driving potato trucks or doing other work. They have two grown sons.

“I feel comfortable with this job,” Cobian explains. “I think the people I'm working for are fair people.”

He calls himself a “farm hand. I do a little bit of everything.”

This day he's watching as others dig post holes for a new corral. Before they begin drilling, Cobian directs the man driving the post-hole digger to move left or right, so that the fence will be perfectly aligned.

Cobian also helps direct other Hispanic laborers and interprets their comments. Saul Flores has been working seasonally for two years, Antonio Chabolla for six. With Angel Mendez and Hilarion Alvarez, the crew builds corrals and feeds cattle in the winter. As the weather warms, they'll shift chores to irrigating and, in the fall, harvesting grain.

“I like these people,” Cobian shouts, nodding goodbye as he and the others return to their work.




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