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Wimauma: A 'borderland' of cultures where people take care of people

Helping migrant workers in Wimauma
Reina a former farmworker in Wimauma.
Posted at 4:58 AM, May 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-06 07:52:13-04

WIMAUMA, Fla. — The tiny town is surrounded by open farmland and rows of taco trucks. Wimauma is known as a migrant farmworker community. But, if you look a little closer, you'll find families working hard to achieve their American Dream.

The number of migrant workers coming to Wimauma varies season by season. Some are permanent residents; others are temporary. Most need help to take care of their families or get established in a new place. For more than 40-years, the nonprofit Beth-El Farmworker Ministry has worked to fill that void.

"The way I describe Beth-el, in Wimauma, it's a borderland where cultures meet," Teresita Matos-Post, the executive director of the nonprofit, told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska. "They come with big dreams like we all do. But they also come with a willingness to work hard. They don't know anything else but to work really hard. So they're grateful to have the opportunity to provide first and foremost education for their children."

Matos-Post introduced us to a former farmworker named Reina; she didn't want to use her last name because of recent anger towards immigrants. A few weeks ago, Reina explained in Spanish she left the farms and began work as a janitor. She has three daughters that grew up traveling from place to place with her as she picked up farm jobs here and there. Today, because of her handwork, she tells me, one of her daughters is a nurse, and the other two are graduating from college.

"Do you think the U.S. could do more to help our migrant worker community?" Paluska asked.

"I think they should be guaranteed minimum wage," Matos-Post said. "They don't have sick days. If female farmworkers, who are a huge percentage of the farm working core, get pregnant, they just simply don't work. And if you're a single parent, family household, how do you make ends meet?"

While we were at Beth-El, a farmworker named Alvaro Castañera and his son Emilio, 17, showed up to talk to us.

Alvaro told me he picks bell peppers and makes .25 cents a box. Per hour, if he works hard and fast enough, he can get around $11.50. Alvaro doesn't want his son to follow in his footsteps. Emilio told me he wants to go to college to study technology.

"What is your dad teaching you to do with your life?" Paluska asked

"To go to school, do good and actually get a diploma to have something that he doesn't have," Emilio said. "(Feel) Accomplished that all my dad has done has been really made for something."

Education is a key component, and a new program at the non-profit keeps students off the fields and in the classroom.

"We have a wonderful program that we're so proud of. It's called Step up for Success. Children of migrant farmworker families are very tempted to leave school at the age of 16 because they want to work to supplement the economic economy of their households," Matos-Post said. "Most often, they're the first ones in their families to finish high school, let alone go to college. And we have a 93% success rate of scholars who have not only graduated high school but also moved on to higher education."