Contreras family harvest a field of dreams.
By Macarena Hernandez
Montara, CA., January 14, 2000
A few miles away from where the county road ends and a dirt road begins in this bedroom community south of San Francisco, Jesus Contreras works the land that has cultivated his dreams.
Like many Mexican immigrants, Contreras, 49, moved to California to work and help his family back home. But unlike others who have spent their time working in fields or orchards for others, Contreras has grown his own business cultivating flowers. It is here, surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees just a few miles away from the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, that he has carved his own paradise, his own Rancho.
“This is what I like,” said Jesus in his soft voice. “I like to be out en el campo. I would love to be un lobo, un venado o un águila to roam free in the hills.” His fascination with el campo began in Cocula Jalisco, where he live until he was 16 years old and where he returns whenever he can.
When he was a young boy, Contreras planted pinto and green beans in wooden crates on the family rooftop, often used as a patio where women hang clothes to dry and keep a garden. Watching pants grow fascinated Contreras.
But he also liked being self-sufficient and having money in his pocket, so to make an extra peso, he would buy jicamas, pepinos and naranjas then cut them up from an uncle. He would then cut them up, add chile and limón and sell them outside his grandparent’s tore, the only in Cocula.
By the time he was 16, he was sowing his own maíz on borrowed land. “I was able to harvest maíz with the help of my uncle Jesus Villalobos, who helped me sow,” said Contreras.
His father, Francisco, came to the United State in the early 1960's as a contracted laborer to work in a pigpen. After five years, he brought Contreras with him. Together, they worked for a farmer who owned flowerbeds, making $1.05 an hour. He did everything from thinning and weeding rows of flowers with a hoe to diving a tractor, and gradually worked his way to selling flowers at farmer’s markets in the area. After 10 years at the same farm, Contreras decided to start out on this own.
He began by tending five acres, where he planted 10 different kinds of flowers such as dahlias and daisies. Twenty years later, his farm has grown to include 25 acres with 65 flowers varieties – too many to rattle off without the help of a list.“My father has achieved so many things, and eve then he continues to have so many dreams,” said his daughter, Lucy.
But his accomplishments haven’t come easy. Even to this day, his daughters, one a radio producer for a Spanish-language station, the other, a junior in college, drive home on Friday nights to help their father sell flowers at the local farmer’s market.
Several times, when Contreras was having financial difficulties, would send his entire family to Mexico.
On a recent chilly afternoon, Contreras surveyed the fields of flowers and talked about the difficulties cultivation. On some of the flowers, the fog, a frequent and feared visitor, had already left brown spots.
“We are the mercy of nature,” said his eldest daughter, Rosa, as she followed Contreras around he looked for forget-me-nots ad freesias to cut. They were the first flowers of the harvest, and as always, the first brunch was for his wife, Rosa Maria. “Flowers are like women, they are beautiful,” he said with a laugh. “Well that depends if the women aren’t regañonas.”
His house is a short walking distance from where he plants his flowers. At home, he talks about his other dreams which include returning to Cocula and running for president of the town of 25,000 people.
“I have seen that all of those politicians that reach positions of power do ti to exploit people, to see what they can get out of the administration, what they can steal,” said Contreras. “Even though politics isn’t always a good thing, I am interested in it because I want to change la política so that it can benefit the people.”
His love for his homeland is shared by his family, and it is evident in the dozens of home videos they record on trips to Cocula There are the family weddings, the birthday parties and Contreras I a field of maíz admiring the harvest. Most of the important events of his life, like daughters’ quinceañeras, are celebrated in Cocula.
“He made sure that we went to Mexico every year, that we spoke Spanish, and that we learn about our roots and our history,” said Rosa.