home about productions partners fw channel contact
FocusWest banner

Jackson accommodates a new workforce: Wyoming

Elderly woman photo1st Woman, San Simeon, Tlaxcala, Mexico: "They've left us and gone far away to work; they've left their fields."

2nd Woman, San Simeon, Tlaxcala, Mexico: "Some are waiters, some are cooks."

1st Woman: "No one earns anything here. The earth is all there is. Sometimes it gives, sometimes it doesn't."

Clarene Law photoClarene Law: "We have about half of our work force coming from Mexico, and that would be more than 30. In about 1986, 1987, we began our dependency on foreign workers. We began to have year-around business we had not had heretofore. At that time we began to need more year-round employees."

The wealthy town of Jackson, Wyoming, is one of many Rocky Mountain resorts whose service economy is propped up by low-wage workers from Mexico. The hours are long, the jobs difficult, but Arturo and Esther and hundreds of other parents focus on the benefits for their children.

Arturo Ordonez and son photoArturo Ordonez: "They are going to be better off, in a better life with the education they'll get, for the education they're getting is quite good."


Jean Carryl photoJean Carryl: "When he first came into the situation in kindergarten, he was pretty shy. But since then he has made many friends. He is an emergent reader, his number skills are good, he has good abstract thinking skills, so he's probably in, I'd say, about the top third of the class."

Mary Kitto photoMary Kitto: "Esther is a wonderful student. She is very high academically. She's above grade level as far as reading goes. She's a wonderful writer. She writes great stories. Her parents are very supportive of Esther's education, and we work together on things like getting her to wear her glasses, the natural kid things."

Ester Ordonez photoEsther Ordonez: "They learn by doing their homework, and I, too, learn. Sometimes a word comes up that I don't know, so I see it and the next time it comes up, I know what it means."

Like hundreds of other Mexican service workers they used to commute from Idaho, a hazardous one-hour drive away.

Arturo Ordonez: "What we didn't like was the commuting back and forth, having to cross Teton Pass. In summer it was okay, but in winter it is very dangerous."

So their reward for their hard work was subsidized housing closer to work.

Clarene Law: "Arturo and Esther have been very fine employees of our establishments for several years. They live in a trailer here in town. It's one of our properties. We put up a great many of our own employees."

Arturo Ordonez: "So moving to Jackson, living here in Jackson, has been a step forward with a little more economic advantage. I have two jobs. I also work at the Red Oak Grille. I'm a cook there. I have very little cooking experience, but they gave me the chance to learn this work, to take on new challenges by working as a cook. And I like it. I like cooking and working in the restaurant. I work 90 hours a week at my two jobs. It's somewhat burdensome, but it's very nice to have work."

Residents of the resort community of Cody, however, had a negative reaction to the prospect of a new and different work force.

Cody radio call-in show: "DJ: Good morning to you, speak your piece. Female caller: I've been listening to this and reading about it. We were in Jackson last summer. A lot of them are very nice. A lot couldn't speak one word of English and they're working in the stores. DJ: Yeah. Male caller: Are these people, when they come to town, are they paying taxes?"

In Jackson, too, there was initial negative reaction when large numbers of Mexican workers arrived.

Candra Day photoCandra Day: "There were fights on the school grounds, elementary school grounds, between Hispanic kids and American kids that were of concern to us. And there were nasty letters in the paper about housing issues that were of concern to us."

Arturo Ordonez: "Yes, there are a lot of difficulties with the Latino people here. Mostly among young guys because they don't have a driver's license and they like to drink, so they have problems, and those are the problems you mainly see in the courts."

Jean Carryl: "The whole community is struggling with becoming a multi-cultural city."

Accommodating two separate cultures, one that is affluent and one that is not, is never easy. But Jackson recognizes its dependence on foreign workers. Now there's a Mexican soccer league, Spanish story hours at the library, and a weekly Spanish-language radio show.

Arturo Ordonez: "We've encountered no difficulties. It's been a very happy experience, living here. Of course, when you have work, life is easy, harmonious. Our own plan is to return to Mexico. As for my children's decision, I'm not going to force them in any way. I won't be the sort of father who says, "If I return, you come with me." No, they are going to make a lot of decisions in their lives, and they'll decide if they come with us, or make a future for themselves here."

Navigation Links

Los Americanos News

Mexicans return home from U.S. for a better life

Montana, Washington state join federal Secure Communities program

Utah AG explains his stance on illegal immigration

Utah Legislature winds up its session

Senate panel tables bill to overturn Utah's guest worker law

Second Indian store opens in Idaho city

Utah Legislature's 45-day session begins today

Canada's energy industry presses for changes in immigration policy

Increase in immigrant truck drivers, fatal accidents a rising concern

Colorado senator's bill allows visas for some undocumented students