Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000 Page: 12
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Transcribed by the students of the Llano
Grande Research Center
My mother and I came to work in the
(Vahl'sing) packing shed (see photograph
on pages 89),
cents an hour
two of us, we
per day, and
that was a lot
of money in
1930s. There was plenty of work here.
This little town (Elsa) grew and grew because
of the Vahl'sing shed. I recall that
that shed was called the largest packing
shed in the world at that time. It was
about a quarter of a mile long... operated
24 hours and employed thousands...
I began working with Vahl'sing when
I was 12. My mother and I worked in
the fields because my father was unable to
work due to an accident. Because of that, I
was given a chance to drive trucks to take
the produce to the shed. I started driving
trucks when I was 14 and spent 12 years
driving trucks. I drove trucks filled with
vegetables from the fields to the shed. After
I left the vegetables at the shed, they
were washed and packed to be shipped by
train. After the vegetables were washed,
they were packed in boxes. There were no
cardboard boxes, so vegetables were packaged
in baskets, or wooden boxes called
wirebounds. First they packed a layer of
vegetables, then a layer of ice, then another
layer of vegetables, and another of ice until
the box was full. The ice came from
Edinburg, where the ice plant was. The
machines from the plant were extremely
noisy, and if you were not used to the noise,
it would keep you awake all night. But once
you got used to the noise, it didn't bother
I think that the water for the ice probably
came from the canals. I don't remember
ever getting sick because of the water.
I don't think that the water was treated. It
must have been a little bit contaminated,
but we would just go get a bucket of water
to drink and never worry about getting
sick. I don't think I ever heard of
anyone getting sick because of the water.
I think the shed closed because there
were some bad deals going on with some
of the employees. I remember Johnny
Stokes, the man who paid us every Saturday,
had your pay predetermined. He
told you how much you worked and how
much you earned. You were paid in cash.
There were no checks, nor any other ways
to keep track of how much you worked,
so you could not prove that you were underpaid.
What little you earned you were
paid in cash...
The white people kept the Mexicans
humble. If a white employer told you that
you weren't doing your work, you
couldn't talk back because he would fire
you. You were afraid to talk back because
if you were fired, it was very difficult to
find another job, so the fieldman would
scold you, and you would take it because
if you didn't work, then you didn't eat.
...In the late 1940s, Vahl'sing came
down and fired many of the people there,
but it still did not save his business because
by the early 1950s, the packing shed
operation had pretty much come to an
She continued, "I discovered how nice
it was to move around and be on my own.
I liked that. Now I think that I may go to
college in Eastern Michigan, where two of
my brothers live." Thinking big, Garcia
said that she'd like to return to South Texas
to work with the Llano Grande Center after
completion of college because she sees
a need for a similar program in Eastern
Michigan, where there are also many migrant
workers. Garcia thinks that she
could be just the person to introduce it
In almost every way it seems that the
Llano Grande Research Center is on its
way to achieving all of its goals. Julie
Canniff of the Annenberg Foundation's
Rural Challenge Grant visited the students
in Edcouch recently and came away impressed.
She said, "This is one of the few
Rural Challenge Projects that has brought
the community into the school and the
school out to the community. That has
been done through a desire to connect their
cultural history to the history of the place
and the larger history of the state of Texas
and the United States. In this respect, the
Llano Grande Research Project stands as a
model for all other such projects in the
In the end, though, when all of the accomplishments
of this project are enumerated
and the carefully honed professional
skills of the students are demonstrated, it
is important to note that something else
has been gained: As in the case of Abby
Garcia, the students have benefited from
an increased self-confidence that has enabled
them to see beyond the borders of
South Texas. According to Guajardo,
"These exercises have instilled confidence
in the kids so that they know they can function
and compete in the world outside of
the Edcouch-Elsa city limits." As evidence
that the world has indeed opened up for
the students of the Llano Grande Research
Center, Guajardo points out that since
1993, the school district, the second poorest
in the state, has had 36 students who
were accepted and have attended Ivy
League colleges. Nineteen of them have
Furthermore, Guajardo proudly points
out another accomplishment that he can't
help describe as a "great irony."
"The Llano Grande Center has just
signed a contract to transcribe oral histories
for the famed King Ranch in South
Texas. Many years ago, it was not uncommon
for Mexicans to be mistreated by folks
in that area, and now we are helping document
their history. That's pretty amazing!"
Coming full circle can be a dizzying experience.
Krane is the editor of HERITAGE magazine.
Note: Frank Guajardo and the Edcouch-Elsa
Independent School District were presented a
citation of merit by THF honoring this innovative
cultural preservation program at a banquet
on May 4. See that article on page 34.
HERITAGE * 12 * SPRING 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000, periodical, Spring 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45390/m1/12/: accessed April 24, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.