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About one hour south of the wealthy Silicon Valley, and twenty minutes east of the affluent Monterey/Carmel area, home of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course, sits the agricultural town of Salinas. The city of Salinas is at the head of a fertile valley – a part of the country brought into America’s consciousness through the stories of John Steinbeck. Along with an abundance of other crops, 80% of the nation’s lettuce and artichokes are grown here. Every day, Americans eat produce that is handpicked by immigrant farm workers in this area, but few understand the challenges the farm workers and their children face.
On the east side of Salinas, in a neighborhood known as Alisal, deplorable housing conditions and gang violence are part of daily life. Alisal is 92% Latino with a per capita annual income of $11,917. Despite the challenges there are big changes happening in the community and a sense of renewal and pride. Young people are surviving and thriving. This documentary profiles the children of immigrant farm workers living in Salinas. Without resources, and sometimes undocumented, their future is often uncertain, but their hope and resilience is abundant.
This film helps viewers understand a community that is often misrepresented in the media. News stories focus on gang violence, often marginalizing the lives of those who work in the fields and their children. The film brings to light the systemic causes of the problems in East Salinas and highlights the successes and hopes of this community. The Salinas Project is an expanded exploration of the lives of four young people who are overcoming the social, political and economic constraints that confront many Latinos in America.
East Salinas, Alisal
Leaders in the community say Alisal is one of the most densely populated in California – some say more densely populated than Manhattan, New York. Immigrant families, who work in the fields, live in cramped, unhealthy conditions because of the high cost of housing in Monterey County. Alisal is a young community: 37% of its residents are under the age of 18. Only 4% are over the age of 65.
As you drive around Alisal you see garages with messy foam insulation outlining the garage doors. These are converted garages, where families, sometimes multiple families, live, with questionable electricity and water, often on a cement floor, with rodents abundant.
Alisal High School has had major problems with gang violence, but students, faculty and staff show great pride in their school. The high school’s demographics: 97% of the students are Latino; and 77% are eligible for free or reduced lunch. That’s compared to a 41% average for the state. Salinas is home to an estimated 16 street gangs, with at least 3,000 members.
Alisal is separated from the rest of Salinas by the 101 freeway. Alisal was once known as “little Oklahoma.” More than three thousand Midwesterners settled in East Salinas during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. In the 1930s the community was renamed “The Alisal.” From the 1940’s to the 1960’s more than 4 million Mexican farm workers came to work in the fields in the United States under the Bracero labor program. Many of these workers settled in Alisal, which was annexed to the City of Salinas in 1963.