San Jerardo Cooperative entrance gate. Salinas, Monterey County.
The landscape south of Salinas is composed almost entirely of fields: broccoli, lettuce, strawberries. But in the middle of this green patchwork stands a cluster of homes, protected by white brick walls and great eucalyptus trees.
It is the San Jerardo housing cooperative, built by farm workers involved with the UFW strikes that rocked the Salinas Valley in the early 1970s. The place was an abandoned labor barracks, which the farm worker families first used as a squatting camp then purchased and transformed. Today it seems an average blue-collar neighborhood, but with more pride than usual—modest ranch homes with extensive gardens, elaborate Christmas decorations.
Horacio Amezquita’s family joined the co-op at the start. They had come from Mexico in 1974—all eleven of them piled into a ’65 Chevy—and because of bad luck had to stay; by choice they would have returned to their prosperous farm in Jalisco. After two years of miserable housing conditions, they jumped at the chance to own a home through the co-op. Built it themselves over two years’ worth of weekends.
Today three generations of Amezquitas live at San Jerardo. Like the cooperative as a whole, they are no longer farm workers nor recent immigrants, but rather the product of decades of assimilation. While Horacio’s mother, Mercedes, remembers riding a horse to town when she was young, her grandchildren across the street know only modern California—none of them will work in the fields. Horacio’s generation is somewhere in between. He remembers hauling water in pails as a child, but today runs a custom farming company in the agribusiness world of Salinas. He is a devout Catholic, but doesn’t “live by the saints” the way his mother does.
Despite differences, the family is not fractured. That’s at least partly because of San Jerardo. Disparate as their lives are, they are still lived just steps from one another. Not long ago Horacio bought a bigger, nicer house in Salinas, but his mother wouldn’t move there. She refused to leave San Jerardo, he told me, because this place holds the family together.
Gloria Martinez, San Jerardo Cooperative. Salinas, Monterey County.
Gloria Martinez was an original member of the cooperative, and continues to live there today.
Horacio Amezquita, San Jerardo Cooperative. Salinas, Monterey County.
San Jerardo Cooperative. Salinas, Monterey County.
Mercedes Amezquita, San Jerardo Cooperative. Salinas, Monterey County.
Adrian Alcala Amezquita, San Jerardo Cooperative. Salinas, Monterey County.
View to urban Salinas from San Jerardo Cooperative. Salinas, Monterey County.
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