Special Report: Family Offers Look into Life in an Hidalgo County Colonia

Posted: Updated: Nov 10, 2016 09:03 PM

MERCEDES – A family living in an Hidalgo County colonia gave CHANNEL 5 NEWS a glimpse of what they face each day.

The crew arrived at the Hernandez home just as the sun came up. In a worn-down trailer on a small plot of land, Adela Hernandez and two of her children got ready for the day.

Hernandez walked the twin 3-year-olds outside to wait for the bus. As the bus arrived, she told them, “Both of you take care of each other, yes?”

It’s just after 7 a.m. Hernandez’s husband was already working in the fields. She said jobs are hard to find, and somedays there are none. Hernandez waited for her call about work.

"Sometimes I plant seeds. Sometimes I have to separate the plants from each other, so that they won't be bunched up together. Sometimes I have to remove the grass from the plants,” she explained. “Sometimes five hours, seven hours, depending.”

The couple’s bosses usually alert them the night before. At times, the call comes within an hour before they’re supposed to start work.

The CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew joined Hernandez’s husband, Paulino, as he trudged up and down dusty fields all day. He picked up water hoses for $7.25 an hour.

The couple said the money they make is more than they’d make in Mexico. Paulino Hernandez told us the work he does is difficult. 

"It's hard. We struggle. Many don't come back, just one day, and that's it,” he added.

In another field a mile away, Adela Hernandez sat and waited. She explained, “Right now, we are waiting for them to give us the order to start to work."

She'll plant sugar cane for hours. She told us every day she prays for work. 

"I'm happy, because Saturday we'll be able to cash out,” she said, “And we'll be able to pay for light and water."  

Adela and Paulino Hernandez first met as they both toiled under the hot south Texas sun. Their three children were born in the United States. 

While they’re at school, the parents continue to work the fields until later in the evening. People in the colonia help each other. One of the neighbors watched the Hernandez children until their parents come home for the day.

"It's admirable what they are doing,” said Hector Gonzalez-Hernandez. He talked about the efforts of Adela and Paulino Hernandez. 

His home sits across the dusty gravel street from their home. "We admire them, because they leave around six or five in the morning. And they get back around five or six,” he told us. 

When Paulino Hernandez returned home, he said the long day was tiring but worth it. He told us it’s a better life than one in Mexico.

“We would struggle a lot over there,” he said, “First of all, because there is no job. The other reason is that one wanted to come over and get to know it. They told us it was very pretty over here."

His children ran to him to welcome him home, and they waited for their mother. In a cluttered room, a television - the only piece of technology in the household - sat ready to entertain. 

The children eventually headed outside to play. The twins and their older sister let their imaginations come to life in the dirt-filled backyard. 

Around 8 p.m., Adela Hernandez finally made it home. The children rushed to the car to greet her. She looked tired and worn out. 

But as she does every night, she worked her magic to prepare dinner. "I'm going to make them a little soup, defrost some nuggets,” she told us. “And for my husband, I have some tamales that are left over from this morning."

The CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew’s presence meant the food will have to go a little farther.

The couple’s combined income is $12,000 a year. The children have Medicaid. They get $500 a month in food stamps. 

"We are poor but very happy. … That’s the good thing,” Hernandez told us. 

A small wooden desk found new life as a dinner table. As Hernandez put plates on the table, she offered tamales. She laughed and said, “They are really good, but they are a bit hot. A bit hot.”

Bugs hovered overhead as the children ate. Then their parents and the CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew sat down. The couple generously offered to share the food they had with us. 

The two exchanged glances and smiled throughout dinner. They laughed and shared memories of when they met. Their 10th wedding anniversary was approaching.

Later, as the children got into their bedtime routine, Adela Hernandez set up an area for the CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew to sleep. It’s an area the family usually sleeps in during cold winters.

She warned, “Let see if the rats don't scare you, because the rats enter at night. Since the trailer has holes, that's how they get in. “

All showered and ready for bed, the family chatted briefly before lights out. Hernandez snatched up her 3-year-old daughter and put her on her lap. “Mom’s most precious thing. How did my little girl behave,” she asked.

The family then piled on the floor on mattresses barely two inches thick.

As the CHANNEL 5 NEWS crew went to bed, they could hear scratching, which was likely the rats Hernandez mentioned. They didn’t sound far. 

Just after 6 a.m., the family started another day with new challenges. Both parents got the call about work in the fields waiting for them. 

"It's my turn to go to the canes again,” said Adela Hernandez with a laugh.

She got the children ready for school. Refried beans and eggs from the wandering chickens started the family's day. Another day of struggles and hope awaited the Hernandez family.

They’re one of thousands impacted by poverty. Money would make things easier for this family, but they don't let poverty steal from life and happiness. The American Dream is just as real for this family, as it is for thousands of others. 

The Migrant Policy Institute reported 39,000 undocumented people live in Cameron County. The institute stated 100,000 people in Hidalgo County are undocumented. The institute only reported numbers for Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

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