Immigration in the basin
The four Alonso brothers
are all working for Staunton Farms in
Tulelake. They include, from left, Luis,
Jesus, Martin and Ramon.
March 29, 2006 by Lee Juillerat, H&N Regional
TULELAKE - The Alonso family is one that typifies
the Tulelake Basin's changing family and racial
In the mid-1970s, when Ramon Alonso Sr. left his
family in Jalisco, Mexico, and traveled to the
Tulelake Basin in search of work, the vast
majority of residents were whites. Hispanics
traveled through, staying briefly to help with
seasonal harvest of potatoes, grain and other
The face and color of the Tulelake Basin, as it
has through the American West, has evolved.
The Alonso story isn't unusual. As with many
immigrants who have traveled to the United States
from distant lands - the Irish, Swedes, Germans,
Japanese and countless others - the dream and
reality of a better life resulted in the first
arrival, in this example Ramon Sr., who then
recruited other family members.
Ramon Jr., who was 14 1/2, came in 1979.
“When we tried to cross
the border the first time, (immigration officials)
told me I wouldn't find work because I was too
young,” remembers Ramon, who is now 43. “It wasn't
a problem. I was a hard worker. After I started
working here I got my brothers to come.”
His brothers, Martin, 41, Jesus, 37, and Luis,
30, soon joined him in the Tulelake Basin.
Ramon began working for Staunton Farms in 1981.
His brothers, who worked a variety of jobs,
gradually joined Ramon at the farm. Now Ramon, his
parents, brothers, five of his six sisters and
their families live in the Klamath Basin.
Why they came echoes the story of immigrants.
“There's not much money in
Mexico, and not opportunities to work,” Ramon
Today, Ramon is the operation's foreman for the
farm, which grows potatoes, onions, grain, alfalfa
and mint. About 2,000 acres is in grain, 800 acres
are in potatoes and the operation has six fields
in alfalfa and four in mint.
Ramon's brothers do maintenance and, as Luis
puts it, “whatever needs to be done.” The brothers
miss Jalisco, a Mexican state near Guadalajara and
inland from Puerto Vallarta. They occasionally
return in the winter, when they might be off work
for two or three months, to see extended families.
“Oh, yeah, I miss it a lot. The heat and the
food,” Jesus admits.
“I like Jalisco better but
there's no money there,” echoes Martin.
But, as Ramon says, none of the brothers, who are
all U.S. citizens, imagine returning to live in
In his family, Oscar, 17,
and Dianna, 17, both play basketball and other
sports at Tulelake High School. Jasmin, 12, played
for the elementary team. Ramon's wife, Erma, has a
full-time job. The couple also have a young son,
5-year-old Eric. Ramon, who will coach the
Tulelake soccer team, is confused by American
football - “My son plays, but I don't understand
very well that game.”
Ramon says the family has developed a close
working relationship with the Stauntons - “We're
almost like brothers,” he says.
“By and large, it's been positive for the
different sets of families,” agrees Marshall
Staunton, one of the Staunton brothers. “There's a
sense of teamwork working from family to family.”
Ramon says that when he and, later, his brothers
immigrated to the United States, the process was
Luis, who attended Tulelake schools, said he
didn't experience any problems because he was
“I was treated like any other person from here. It
was good at that time, but it's getting bad now,”
Luis worries, referring to the increased
criticisms of immigration policies and flow of
illegal aliens from Mexico to the U.S. “Some
politicians are maybe discriminating. I don't see
how the illegals hurt the Americans.”
“We're safe,” Ramon says of the extended Alonso
family, who are all citizens or have necessary
papers. “But they're some people around who, if
that law (a proposal that would tighten
restrictions against illegals) passes, it will
break up families.”
Referring to the alleged widespread sales of
counterfeit documents, which President Bush spoke
about during a press conference last week, Ramon
says that farm managers “try for legals, but if
not, are we going to be in trouble?”
Most of the seasonal workers - and those numbers
can explode to 350 at Staunton farms during the
peak harvest seasons - live in the Tulelake or
“We've got to face the fact a whole bunch of the
farm economy is based on the Mexican folks,”
Staunton says. Without migrant laborers to help
with, for example, hand weeding onion fields,
farmers would need to intensify herbicide use.
Ramon believes that Mexican migrants, legal and
even some now classified as illegals, are
necessary. As an example, he notes that irrigation
pipes need to be set out on 2,000 acres of fields.
“Who's going to do the job?” he wonders.
“The gringos wouldn't work in the fields, not for
$7.50 an hour,” Jesus says.
For the Alonsos, some of the challenges faced by
Ramon and his father have eased. Ramon struggled
with speaking English, but his children know it as
a first language.
“My son speaks two languages,” Ramon says. “A lot
families want to speak only English, but we try to
keep our family speaking two languages. Why? It's
better to earn more money.
“This has become home now because we have roots,”
Ramon explains. “It's been so many years. We know
just about everybody - the gringos, American
people, other Mexicans. It's our home now.”