Maria Cepeda and her husband, Jose Tinoco, both pick fruit for a living in the Myakka City area.
It’s a tough life.
Cepeda is up at 4 a.m. to pick in a small blueberry field near Myakka City. Her husband works in fruit collection at Faulkner Farms.
The couple live in a migrant farm worker camp near Myakka City and send money home to relatives in Mexico.
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Cepeda and Tinoco have three children including Daniel, 15, who attends Lakewood Ranch High School, and Jasmin, 9, and Juan, 11, who attend Myakka City Elementary School.
We need to prepare for big changes in the future of agricultural work. Technology is affecting all of our connections to the work force. There are many jobs that farmworkers don’t need to do now. I think migrant workers are here to stay but maybe in different capacities in the future.
Esperanza Gamboa, Farmworker Career Development Program
“My dream is that they don’t have the same life that I have,” Cepeda said of her children, her words translated Tuesday by Omar Berrios, a Tropicana employee who is the leader of Tropicana Products Inc.’s Adelante Team, the company’s Hispanic employee resource group.
“I hope they see the effort that their dad and I must put in,” Cepeda added.
Although theirs is a tough life, Cepeda and Tinoco and hundreds of other Manatee County migrant and seasonal farmworker families have support that farmworkers decades ago did not have.
That support was on display Tuesday when The Farmworker Career Development Program of Manatee Technical College and the Adelante Team of Tropicana gave away backpacks filled school supplies and juices to roughly 250 migrant children who gathered at the East Coast Migrant Head Start School at 34590 State Road 64 E. in Myakka City.
The 250 students and their families also were presented information from organizations as part of a Title I Child Migrant Program Migrant Fair that is usually presented at a separate time but this year was held at the same time as the backpack event.
“We are committed to the community,” Berrios said of Tropicana.
Manatee leader makes predicts changes
Esperanza Gamboa has been both the literal and spiritual leader of Manatee Technical College’s Farmworker program for more than 20 years. Perhaps no one has a feel for the seismic shifts that have occurred in the lives of Manatee County farmworkers than Gamboa.
“Things are definitely improving,” Gamboa said Tuesday after she and her team, including Mary Guerrero, Carolina Betancourt, Maria Matute and Maria Benitez-Nunez, had made sure all the families were serviced. “We can see changes with each new generation.”
Gamboa stays in touch with families and, over the generations, she is seeing that when children of migrant workers go to college, they become aunts and uncles who impress their nieces and nephews with the desire for higher education.
“The whole perspective is changing,” Gamboa said. “The children now know they can have a future. They know they can achieve their dreams because a relative has done that.”
Cepeda and Tinoco’s children all had their dreams locked down and none said they planned to pick fruit as their career.
“I want to be a teacher,” Jasmin said just before her brother, Juan, said he wanted to go into the military, and her older brother, Daniel, said he also wanted to be a teacher.
Gamboa also is seeing small but steady changes in agriculture that are allowing the farmworkers have less back-breaking work.
“We need to prepare for big changes in the future of agricultural work,” Gamboa said. “Technology is affecting all of our connections to the workforce. There are many jobs that farmworkers don’t need to do now. I think migrant workers are here to stay but maybe in different capacities in the future.”
The backpacks are a huge help to these families, much more than just the fact they are free, Gamboa said.
“It’s hard to drive 45 minutes to buy a pencil and paper so a child can do homework,” Gamboa said. “The school supplies and juices they get are important to them.”