Mecca Youth’s Journey from Fields to Starbucks

Aug. 29, 2012 / By

Alejandro Ortega has spent the past six summers working in the fields of the Eastern Coachella Valley. With the help of the Mecca Boys & Girls Club, he was able to get a job this summer in the air-conditioned comfort of the Mecca Starbucks. PHOTO: Tony Aguilar/Coachella Unincorporated

By Tony Aguilar, 
Coachella Unincorporated

MECCA, Calif. — This summer was unlike any other for 17-year-old Alejandro Ortega.

For the first time in six years, Ortega’s summer job was in the air-conditioned indoors and not in the fields of the Eastern Coachella Valley in triple-digit heat. This summer, with the help of the Mecca Boys and Girls Club, Ortega is working at the local Starbucks.

“I’ll never go back (to the fields),” Ortega said, after finding out he got the job earlier this summer.

This opportunity means more to Ortega than to most teens. He helps support a household of eight. Although he hated spending his summers picking fruits and vegetables, it was necessary in order to supplement the family’s income. His diabetic mother is unable to work and stays home to care for his two younger special-needs siblings. Ortega’s father is also unable to work due to a shoulder injury. The burden of providing for the family falls on Alejandro and his sibling.

Like many local farm workers, Ortega followed the crops up to Bakersfield every summer after the local harvests were over.

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Coachella Unincorporated

Coachella Unincorporated is a Youth Media Startup in the East Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of The California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose of the project is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. Coachella Unincorporated refers to the region youth journalists cover but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset.