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Wages are magnet for Mexican workers

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Ramiro Zavala

Ramiro Zavala

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

In Guanajuato, Mexico, 38-year-old Ramiro Zavala is a carpenter. Anything you want, from furniture to doors, he can make it for you.

But these days Zavala is a long way from his Guanajuato home and a carpenter's saw. He lives in a small trailer in Ephraim, Sanpete County, passing time watching Spanish television, attending Mass and dreaming of his family back home.

"I am not happy here without my family," Zavala says, his voice choked with emotion that transcends his broken English. "They are too sad because they are alone. I need my family."

But Zavala stays in Ephraim. As much as he needs his family, his family needs the $7.37 an hour he earns boxing turkeys at the Moroni Feed Co. It's not much by Utah standards, but back home, where wages are less than $10 a day — sometimes far less — the $300 a week he earns in Utah goes a long way toward feeding and clothing his three children.

Sergio is 9, Valeria is 7 and Yolanda is 5. They have not seen their father since he journeyed to Ephraim in February 1999.

Zavala talks to his family by telephone once every two weeks, times when the longing rips at his heart and his resolve to stay weakens.

"I tell them I love them, that I miss them," he said.

Zavala is hardly alone. More than half of the 550 employees at Moroni Feed are Hispanics, and a good share are from Guanajuato.

The migratory life is a hard one, says George Dyches, manager of the turkey processing division at Moroni Feed. Workers struggle with language differences, the lack of familiar foods and a whole set of rules, regulations and cultural nuances different from their homelands.

But the company finds the migrants to be loyal and hard workers. The migrant workers say the company has treated them well. So well, in fact, that many have brought their families from Mexico and settled permanently in Sanpete County, once an almost exclusive bastion of rural white conservatism that now boasts a Hispanic population of 1,200, according to 1998 Census data.

Zavala says he will not bring his wife, Yolanda, and their three children to Utah.

"I see other fathers and mothers working here, and the children are home alone too much of the time," he said. "If I bring my family here, Yolanda will have to work, and then who will take care of the children?"

So Zavala passes time, sharing a trailer and expenses with his brother, until he can save enough to go back home.

His only diversions are weekend fishing trips and catching up on the news of Mexico on Utah's Spanish-speaking television channels.

He likes Ephraim, he likes working at the turkey processing plant.

"But I am not happy here. I think I will go back pretty soon," he said. "There are just too many children without fathers."

E-mail: spang@desnews.com