Alicia Beltrán-Castañeda grew up in Salinas, California, in the late 1960s. Her mother, Beatriz Béltran, was an immigrant from Mexico, and her father, Manuel, worked both as a foreman at a food packing plant and as an overseer of migrant farm workers.
Their family of seven lived in a small trailer, but by working multiple jobs, Manuel was able to save enough money to buy a plot of land on which he built a house. Alicia vividly recalls sitting on a 1950s metal stool in their living room, watching her father paint some of the walls goldenrod, and others Pepto-Bismol pink.
Manuel died when Alicia was 13, leaving their mother to raise the children alone.
Beatriz began working for the Salinas City Elementary School District as a bilingual liaison for Spanish-speaking families and the administration, and later became a coordinator for migrant worker families. Through her job, she saw the poverty many migrant families lived in.
Alicia was not as familiar with the lives of migrant farmworkers until she came home one day to find that her bed was missing—she was furious. With all of her older siblings away at college, Alicia had finally gotten her own room, and she loved her bed, which had a pink cover and lace dust ruffle. When she confronted her mother, Beatriz explained that she had given the bed to a family that had recently arrived in California from Mexico, and Alicia remembers telling her mother that she did not understanding why that was her problem. Without explanation, Beatriz told her to fill shopping bags with canned food from their pantry.
Together they drove to a house where Alicia’s bed now was, a one-room shack with a dirt floor like the ones occupied by so many other migrant worker families. There they met a woman who was laying on Alicia’s bed with her newborn baby surrounded by her four other children.
At StoryCorps, Alicia told her own daughter, Serena, 13, how meaningful that experience was for her.
Originally aired November 18, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.