Former migrant camp residents reunite

By Kristin Rodine

The Idaho Statesman

Published: Tuesday, July 3 2012 7:14 a.m. MDT

CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) — Their stories are tinged with poverty and prejudice, but when former farmworkers' kids talk about growing up in "El Campo de Caldwell," the recollections are joyful and saturated with a sense of community.

"I just remember it was fun. We knew each other and we treated each other like family," says Estella Ozuna Zamora, a Canyon County court interpreter who spent childhood summers at the Caldwell Labor Camp from 1958 until around 1967.

Now she and more than 300 people who grew up in the former "Campo" were reunited in their first-ever reunion, June 23-24.

Residents from the 1940s through the '70s attended, some from as far away as Texas and California.

"People have so much love and admiration for this place," said Mike Dittenber, executive director of the Caldwell Housing Authority, which operates Farmway Village on 110 acres north of Caldwell.

Dittenber recently completed a history of the rural community, which broke ground in 1939 as part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and for decades has housed much of the workforce that powers Canyon County's agricultural economy.

As he gathered human stories to accompany statistics about the labor camp's formative decades, Dittenber said he was surprised at first by how overwhelmingly positive the memories were.

"The people made it work," he said. "People were all treated the same in the labor camp. And because they were all treated the same they thought they were treated well.

"They became a community, and that community became a part of their heart and their soul."

Childhood memories from El Campo (a popular, but never official, name) strike the same chords as those from any small town. Former residents recall lazing under the shade trees with friends, playing tag and red rover, throwing green apples at each other in makeshift war and buying Popsicles in the neighborhood store.

"We went to the dances every Saturday night, and movies in Parma on Sunday," said Amparo Rojas Rendon, who in 1966 became the first Hispanic Campo resident to graduate from Caldwell High School.

She went on to Boise Junior College, studying criminal justice.

"I have such wonderful memories of the labor camp and wonderful memories of school," said Rendon, who wore leg braces starting at age 7 because of polio.

"Nobody ever treated me like I was handicapped."

"We really didn't know we were poor," she said. "We had food on the table — beans, rice and potatoes. And the most important thing we knew we had, we were loved by our parents."

Quarters were cramped and primitive, especially for the many families crowded into one-room "barracks" units, now long gone.

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