Sunday, July 7, 2013

Raza on Raza Rental Arrangements

Not sure if anyone has heard a few stand up comedians joke around about Mexicans and the census. Something along the lines of "when census is taken, there will be a distortion in the amount of Mexicans actually living in the U.S., because usually only the family that owns the house is counted, and they don't count the other 2-3 families living in the garage." I've heard George Lopez do a bit similar to this, but relating more so to overcrowded cars than homes.

My father had a brother who rented out space in his home to a group of men who were in our town to pick crops. As far as I know these men are still there and rent space, or help my uncle with the house payment. I even had an aunt who lived in a 3 bedroom home with 2 bathrooms. At one point, her sister-in-law was living there with her 4 children in one room; in another bedroom a single woman with a daughter and a baby on the way was living in another room; and they even had a small trailer in their backyard that they were renting out to her brother-in-law, his girlfriend and their child. And one bedroom was of course for my aunt, her husband, and their 3 children. Yes that is a lot of people under one fucken roof. The house where my father's mother lived had a similar arrangement, except it was one of his sisters, 4 of her children, along with a few farm worker men they rented a room to. 

At one point my dad rented a couple of makeshift shacks in the back of our house to a couple of men, one whom my dad knew from his rancho back in Mexico, and the other who was a friend of a friend. Before that I remember we lived a fairly large trailer where an aunt, her husband, my grandmother, my great grand father, my uncle, his wife, and their daughter lived; at the same time there were a few farm workers sleeping out in a camping tent in our yard. Later at our house my dad rented space to his oldest brother, whom you can say was my favorite uncle, he was my padrino for mi primera comunion. A kind hearted man, taken too soon. I think if my dad could have had it his way, he would have rented out my bedroom and he would have had me and my siblings sleeping in the same bedroom with him and my mother, a similar arrangement to my aunt. Fortunately my mom had enough sense to talk some sense into him about that. A lot of those people living under the same roof would stay in those arrangements for years on end, some of the farm workers wouldn't move on unless they met a woman and decided to get their own place, at other times they would just bring their new found love to live under the same roof, until they probably decided it was time to try making babies without being surrounded by bodies on all sides.

I'm not sure what the rent arrangements were. I'm not sure how much these people were charged to rent a room where they would have to be packed in with all of their kin. Or even some farm workers sharing one room. I have no clue how the rates were worked out between my family and the people they had living there. I don't even know how my dad worked it out with any of his former tenants (his oldest brother included). This was all in the 80's and 90's so I don't have a clue if rent/living charges increased progressively with the times. However even today, at my mother's house farm workers will come around looking for a room or space to rent. In my neighborhood I remember one family coming around looking for my mother, because they'd heard that she knew how to read English, and they had some documents they needed translated. Which my mother was more than happy to help out with. It was an older couple with a young daughter, possibly in the fifth or sixth grade. After they had gone my mom asked me, "Can you believe they people they're living with are asking them to pay $200 for rent?" That amount was crazy, because this wasn't one college kid sharing a room with a few other college students, and sharing amenities. It was a family, sharing space, specifically in a garage (from what I remember), with one or two other families. I think the woman that had asked my mother to translate the document actually asked if we had space to rent to them due to their current living arrangements. Not only was the rental amount ridiculous for the space they had to share, but these are farm workers, who had to make ends meet with their wages. As far as I know, that was essentially the norm in our neighborhood. I guess a way to look at it, is that the families renting out rooms have to make ends meet as well, and by giving some of these farm workers a place to live they might be doing them a favor, especially if they can't afford an apartment. 

But I've wondered about this, and I've wondered, when does this type of living arrangement crossover into exploitation? You see, some of the farm workers living in the neighborhood try to supplement their income by pushing a cart and ringing bells to try to sell paletas (popsicles), or honking a horn to try to sell elotes (cooked corn that they prepare for you with cream & cheese if you choose), or tamales. True hustlers. Again, I haven't done enough digging to figure out actual rent rates from my own family and the arrangements they had worked out with some of their past tenants, nor do I know how my mother's neighbors work this out, other than what the one family had mentioned to my mother when they came to have some documents translated. Even if I were to dig, I doubt that any of my neighbors would admit to having extra tenants because they probably don't want to get in trouble with city authorities. What gets me though, is when it's raza doing this to raza. Its raza that has a home, and they pack their raza into a small space like sardines, charge each family something like $200 to live in a compact-ass room or space. My family is just as guilty. And I've wondered why there can't be any decent housing, yet affordable housing for this demographic. Instead raza exploits recently arrived raza, or farm worker raza. And to what end? Both are looking to achieve the American Dream. But it's the raza collecting the $200-plus rent checks from their tenants that are a little bit closer to achieving it.

This has bothered me for quite some time, but I guess a lot of this can be chalked up to "dog eat dog." Capitalism gone wild? Or simply the fault of the migrant farm worker for even coming to our city and not doing his or her research to arrive at the realization that the rent for apartments is unaffordable, and that the rent for a room or space in someone's home may be a bit cheaper but overcrowded with one or two other families. For all I know it doesn't matter to the farm worker who is being exploited. I remember all the people living under one roof with different members of my family, including my parents home(s), and they never seemed to complain, or care, so long as they had a place to stay. Maybe I'm just  atop my soapbox hollering at people who just want to be left alone and work. In which case, I should follow suit.

If anything this provides a worthy research topic. I've read some factoids here and there, but I don't think I've ever read or heard of an in depth essay or book written, or new reportage on this industry.


  1. While I definitely know that exploitation happens in this way I also know that sometimes it's just family helping family out.

    My niece lived with me for two years after college and before law school. I charged her $200 a month to help pay the electricity bill and water bill and for groceries.

    Years later another niece came to live with me after she fled from a domestic violence situation. She was undocumented and pregnant. I didn't charge her a dime but fortunately she found work to support her newborn when she arrived. They left after the baby was 18 months old.

    And most recently another niece came to live with me along with her boyfriend. They were both struggling financially and I was not so I didn't charge them a thing. But once my rent went up by $250, I had to ask for them to pay that. Then the water will jumped from $55 a month to $90. They offered to pay the difference. I had hell paying the new electric bill when they both got laid off from their jobs, but now that they are working they pitch in with that. We agreed that they will save enough money to be up on their feet by April 2014. So I hope that will happen. After that I will probably have to find somewhere more affordable to live myself.

    I know this doesn't count as research, it's just anecdotal, but keep in mind that some of us (Raza) still struggle to make ends meet and if we can help each other out...why not?

    1. Thanks for your insight, and for posting your comment.