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Sesiones del Migrante: A Conversation with Diego Perez
Those who work the Yakima Valley fields during harvest and year-round are essential to creating the hoppy beers everyone loves. Sesiones del Migrante Mango IPA was created to recognize these workers. A portion of proceeds from the beer will benefit La Casa Hogar, whose mission is to connect and educate Latina families, to transform lives and the Yakima Valley.
La Casa Hogar staff sat down with Diego Perez to learn more about his experiences as a Latino community member working in agriculture in the Yakima Valley.
Diego, you now work as the Citizenship Program Associate at La Casa helping naturalize those eligible for citizenship throughout the Valley, and you’ve also worked in hops for many years. Tell us about how you started working in hops.
Well, it was my dad. Dad started working in the hops when he first came to the US from Mexico 26 years ago. My family and I were living in Michoacán, Mexico. Dad would work the harvest and then go back home, like most of the people from my hometown. He did all the jobs - drying, harvest, and training - with Gamache Farms in Toppenish for 20 years. Now he’s 65, so he does other jobs in the hops-- but he’ll still go on top if he needs to.
We moved to the USA when I was five. My parents saw how well we were learning and that we were all pretty good students, so we stayed. “Education and Opportunities” - that’s what my dad says.
Why did you want to work in hops?
My dad would always tell me it’s less dangerous and less dirty if I could work in an office, but I really wanted to try hops. I do feel a sense of pride working in hops-- it's hard work. My first harvest was 2015 and I’ve done two more harvests since then. I want to go back this summer on the weekends to try cutting on top because that’s what my dad always did. People would tell me they love it when my dad was the top cutter...because he’s one of the best.
What was your first day of work like?
I’d wake up at 3am and start working at 4am – very early. I was on the bottom, and would grab the vine and pass it over to my partner. Vines kept dropping on my head –they were full of spiders and bugs. That first day, I got stung by a big spider on my neck - twice. And I kept going...I couldn’t say, “Wait, stop, I got stung!” I enjoyed the hard work. A lot of people from my hometown in Mexico worked there, and so they knew me when I was a little kid. So it was nice to work with and be around people from my hometown.
A lot of work goes into hops year round – have you worked any other times than harvest?
I’ve also done the training of the hops. You go down every row and every plant, you twirl the vine. I also worked in the hop fields during winter - sometimes you have to move the poles a couple feet over to not exhaust the soil. A machine would pick up the post and then plant it into another hole. Then you staple it down and hammer it down. I did a lot of the jobs, but the hardest thing is the harvest. We start at 3 or 4am and end at 5pm in the afternoon.
Do you like hoppy beer?
Ever since I started working in hops, then I became more interested in beer and the hop industry. Now, I’m kind of becoming a “hop connoisseur.” I appreciate beer more now after I worked there, and after I got hit by the smell of the hops.
What’s one thing you wish people knew about the work?
It’s dirtier than it looks. We’d take off our glasses and have dirt marks all around our eyes. They should put it on that show, “Dirty Jobs.” I appreciate the hop workers, all the work that goes into it.
Interview by Laura Armstrong
Edited by Jessica Moskwa Hawkins
Posted July 18, 2018