Chasing the American dream, the men at the corner

Day laborers waiting for work in Denton TX. Photo by Esther Kanyua

By 6:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, the day laborers gather at the street corner. Dozens of men wait eagerly for their next paycheck, a piece of the American dream.

According to the 2010 U.S. census the number of Hispanics in Denton TX has increased from 52,619 in 2000 to 90,967 a 73 percent increase.

As cars race down Fort Worth Drive, the laborers eagerly look on hoping that the next car will stop to pick them up.

Getting into that car could mean a job.

Day laborers are likely to be uneducated and undocumented. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many come from Latin America in search for the mighty dollar and a better life.

Leo Delarosa, a 38-year-old Mexican immigrant, left his wife and three kids to come to the U.S. more than a decade ago in search of work to support his family. He worked as a roofer for seven years until the job was terminated. For the past two years he has been a day laborer in Denton.

Research done by the Day Labor Research Institute shows that, contrary to popular belief, not all day laborers are “illegal aliens.” Many of them have legal documentation that allows them to work.

For Delarosa, along with other day laborers, work entails manual labor on construction sites, landscaping or painting houses. “They pay us what they want maybe $8 [or] $10 per hour,” Delarosa said.

To be able to send money to his family, Delarosa has to work at least three or four days a week.

“This week I made no money to send to [my family in] Mexico” said Delarosa. “I worked on Monday but no work since then,” he said as he took off his now faded black New York Yankees baseball cap to wipe the sweat dripping down his forehead.

He explains how the day labors don’t get picked up as frequently as they used to. Many of them will go for a week or more without finding a job, he said. In addition, the recession and government crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants has made it difficult for them to find work, “they [are] afraid to give us jobs,” Delarosa said.

Lynn Svensson, director at Day Labor Research Institute, said that day laborers have education levels that range from no formal schooling to post- graduate education.

“I have known immigrant day laborers that where chemical engineers, doctors and physicists,” said Svensson

“Bosses wrongly feel that workers are undocumented and wrongly think that this means workers have no rights,” said Svensson.

Delarosa is one of the many men who will spend the day seating or standing in scorching 100 degree temperatures for 8 to 10 hours a day waiting for work.

It’s hard to tell how many people work as day laborers according to research by the Day Laborer Institute

Day laborers have been seeking work in Denton for several years now. They used to congregate in an area called the Y along Bell Street in Denton, but after many complaints by residents and an increase in pedestrian-car accidents, the city was forced to intervene and find a safe place for them.

In 1995, a nonprofit organization, Denton Humanitarian Association, along with the City of Denton, designated the corner off Fort Worth Drive and Carroll Blvd as a site for day laborers, said John Cabrales, the public information officer for the City of Denton.

“There is a state law that says you cannot solicit for work off a public roadway,” Cabrales said. “The city does not regulate the activity at the day laborers site unless there is illegal activity involved.”

Denton residents have seen an increase in the number of day laborers who stand at the corner. “A man who works that hard deserves every penny they can get,” said Don Miller, a 55- year-old Denton resident.  Miller once disliked day laborers because he used to believe that they were taking jobs away from Americans. But his opinion of them has changed since. “There is enough room for everyone,” he said.

Delarosa will wait for work as long as he can. “By 3 [p.m.] if no work, then I go home. Sun too hot,” he said.

For the day labors, tomorrow will bring new hope.

Written by Esther Kanyua


4 thoughts on “Chasing the American dream, the men at the corner

  1. Capitalism at its best? Totally amazing reporting! I have deep respect for these people. They earn chose to earn an honorable living doing jobs most of us would rather not.


  2. Capitalism clearly does not look out for the interests of this immigrants. Thank you for your comment.


  3. I know this is an old article, but I was researching and came across it. In Plano we have a Day Labor Center which is run and regulated by the city. Anyone can register there with documentation. Jobs are filled out in order people turn up as their skills are matches and wages are negotiated in front of the staff so there is no issue when it comes to paying up. It works very well, I’ve hired people to do all sorts of work for me and it’s worked out very well. I’m able to help someone less fortunate than me while getting jobs done that I don’t want to. I think every city should have a similar system. It protects both the employer and the laborer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I could not agree more – yes, it’s an old article but one that will be valid for a long time. Perhaps they have a Day Labor center in Denton nowadays – I would have to check – but they do great work nonetheless . Thank you for visiting the blog and sharing your thoughts.


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