Manuela Molina tried hard to believe the cold would go away. But when she awoke last Wednesday and saw snowflakes falling, she began to cry.
Like her parents and grandparents, Molina is a migrant worker. She is one of approximately 80,000 migrants left jobless by last week's crop destruction in South Florida.
The freeze, Florida's worst in 15 years, has ruined $43 million worth of citrus fruits Frank Poke of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Florida Emergency Board told Association Press.
While growers warned of shortages and some south Florida visitors grumbled about spoiled vacations. Molina and her Family - at the barracks-like Redland migrant housing project in South Dade County - spoke softly in Spanish and English about not having enough to eat, about rootlessness and fear.
"We follow the tomatoes," said Moline, the Texas-born daughter of Mexican-American farmworkers. "But all the tomatoes are gone. Now there will be no money. The children have no warm clothes, there is no food. If we cannot pay for the van, they will come and take it away. What will be we?"
A Chevy van, which costs the Molinas $192 per month, sit outside the ramshackle home the family rents for $76 a month. The van is a symbol of the Molinas' lifestyle, of their continual travels from Homestead to Tampa to South Carolina and back, following the tomato crop.
Mrs. Molina and her husband, Guadelupe, the son of sugarbeet workers, each harvest 10 buckets of tomatoes an hour, back-breaking labor that brings them each $50 or $60 a week. It also brings them the shortest life span - 49 years - of any occupational group in America, according to Organized Migrants for Community Action.
There are four children. Eutimio was 16 when his family settled in Homestead, where they live from October through April. Eutimio, in the sixth grade, has only chance to attend school, but the freeze will mean and end to the handsome dark-haired youth's schooling this year, for he has no shoes and he won't be getting any, his mother says.Fransisca, 17, dropped out in the eigth grade to tend 6-year-old Manuel and 5-year-old Rosalina. Neither of the two youngest has even been enrolled in school. "They are not old enough for school, I do not think," said their mother, holding them close for warmth.
Eutimio hopes to follow in his father's footsteps. Already he has picked squash and tomatoes. "Eutimio likes working in the fields better than being in school," his mother said proudly. She nodded as Eutimio said, "Other jobs are very hard to find."
When Gov. Reubin Askew declared a state of emergency in Florida Saturday because of the freeze, aide Ron Sachs said food stamps were the only government help readily available to the thousands of newly jobless migrants.
Sacha said, however, that the governor's declaration would open the way for farm workers to get unemployment compensation they normally wouldn't qualify for, AP reported.
But the chance for aid is being received with mixed emotions in families like the Molinas. Mrs. Molina said her husband is too proud to accept the food stamps and other limited assistance - food, blankets, clothing - being provided by local agencies.
"Guadelupe tell me not to go up there to get food stamps. He doesn't think we should go and have people talk. But we have no food so I go . But there are so many people, so many lines, they tell me to come back some other day."
When the Molina's married in Texas two decades ago, they earned their living picking cotton. But machinery made cotton-picking a lost trade, so they moved to the Southeast in search of tomatoes.
The buckets the couple must fill have been growing bigger and heavier while their wages remain the same - 30 cents a bucket. The fields have no sanitary facilities.
Now they wait. They wait to hear about the frost from a friend who lives in northern Florida - "If there is a harvest there we will go." They wait to hear from the crew leader on whom the family depends - "They tell us some people from Atlanta will be coming to help us, but I don't know if it's true."
"I don't know what we are going to do," Molina said. biting her lip. "There is nowhere for us to go." For the Molinas, tomorrow means another day of waiting and of fear - fear that frost may come again (predictions are that it will).
Mrs. Molina's fear, however, is not so much for herself, she said, "as for the ones with little babies. How will they ever manage? . . . I can only pray f or them."