Hilario Rosales: a farmworker with a thirst for learning

Hilario Rosales is a farm worker. But if you find him at Puente on a weeknight, he might be sitting at a table, staring at a laptop screen with a look of intense concentration.

“My kids and I want to do video chats. I don’t have a lot of experience with computers, but I would like to learn.”

Learning is easily Rosales’ favorite activity, in addition to reading his encyclopedias, listening to music, and spending time with local friends at La Sala, Puente’s twice-weekly social hour for local farm workers. He’s also studying for his GED and taking English classes through Puente. Which begs the question: when does he ever sleep?

Hilario Rosales

Hilario Rosales

The question makes him laugh. “I have a dream of learning. Now that I have my new job, I have more free time and I want to study more.”

Four months ago, Rosales, a 45-year-old father whose wife and three children live in Jalisco, Mexico, left his old job harvesting leeks for Marchi Farms for a new position at Cevasco Nursery, where he fumigates greenhouse flowers and helps prepare soil for planting.

For Rosales, a 54-hour workweek is “light” – 9 hours a day, with only Sundays off. A “busy” week is 11-hour workdays, Sundays included. He earns $9.75 an hour before taxes, pays $104 per month to rent a bedroom at Cevasco, buys what he needs to survive and sends the rest home to his family.

Regardless of his schedule, you’ll see Rosales attend class three nights a week at Puente.

“Because we dedicate our lives to work, there’s a lot of routine – home, work, home, work,” he explains. “But I like to participate in things. If I didn’t come to Puente, I wouldn’t have met anybody.”

By the wealth standards of San Mateo County, Rosales’ life is extremely modest. But he carries himself with strength and confidence. He looks fit and trim in a sports fleece, jeans and stylish sneakers, which he uses to run laps around the greenhouses at Cevasco once a week. He has a friendly, open face, which lights up when he talks about the life he’s created for himself on the South Coast.

Hilario Rosales uses Facebook to communicate with his family.

Hilario Rosales uses Facebook to communicate with his family.

“Here in Pescadero I feel free. I can walk where I want, come to classes. I don’t have to hide from anyone. I try to be respectful to everyone. And it makes me feel sure of myself.”

Rosales likes to stay plugged in. He’s got a cell phone, which he uses to talk to his kids every day. He has a post office box, which he checks on Sundays while scanning the bulletin board for community announcements. He meanders around town, visits the gas station taqueria and chats with his friends. Sometimes people speak to him in English, which is what led to his decision to take English classes at Puente. “I need English a lot,” he says.

Now that Rosales is studying for his GED, he becomes the fourth person in his family to be studying for a degree. His eldest child, who is 22, is wrapping up a college degree; his 18-year-old is entering college and his 16-year-old will be graduating high school shortly. Not bad for a father who dropped out of school after the 8th grade.

The main reason Rosales moved to California to begin with was to finance his kids’ education, and to pay for household necessities. He feels it was a good decision. “Puente has given me a lot of support. I feel really contented,” he says. 

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