Julio Ortiz came to the United States from Guatemala in 2006, alone. A trained teacher, he had earlier worked for six years teaching in three different communities. He had every intention of remaining a teacher. For 31 years, he had lived with his mother and six siblings in a small two-room house. Julio married in 2002, and as some siblings moved out and space opened up, he and his wife remained at home with his mother.
“It was hard in Guatemala. I made about $200 a month as a teacher. I originally planned to work only two or three years in the United States, then return to be a teacher in Guatemala. But in 2008, my wife and my two kids were also able to come
here, and that changed everything.”
The Ortiz family has since grown to five children. Both parents work, Julio as a farm laborer, and his wife in a plant nursery when Julio’s farm season stops for the year. Julio then takes over at the home with his children, while his wife works full time.
Julio works at the same 500-acre raspberry and strawberry farm where he started in 2002. Today, he drives the heavy farm machinery, one of ten drivers, spraying and cultivating up to 10 hours a day every summer. During the growing season, about 10 months each year, his hours can be long, with crews working from 7 a.m. to midnight. But with his seniority, Julio has been able to “cut back” to 11 hours a day. He spends his “extra” time with his children in the evenings.
10 months each year, his hours can be long, with crews working from 7 a.m. to midnight. But with his seniority, Julio has been able to “cut back” to 11 hours a day. He spends his “extra” time with his children in the evenings.
“I like my work. Every year I work about ten months. From February to the end of November. When I take time off, my wife works. In the summer my wife also works at the berry farm.”
The family was living in a rental house in Everson when they applied for the Habitat program in Whatcom County. The rental had three bedrooms and one bathroom. His sister-in-law and her husband took one bedroom. His two older children, a boy and a girl, were in another room. The third bedroom was used by Julio and his wife and their two small boys. Another brother-in-law lived in the living room. Rent was $1,100 per month, which was challenging on a seasonal farm laborer’s pay. Julio and his wife were responsible for half the rent.
Julio attempted to buy the Everson rental, to lock in a predictable monthly payment. “I almost bought it,” he said. “The owner offered to sell me the house. I went to the bank with my cousin, who said ‘Let’s ask.’ So, I applied, and they checked where I worked and how much I made, and I didn’t qualify. I thought we’d live in a rental house forever. But then Habitat came.” Even after successfully applying to Habitat, it took five years before Julio and his family could move into their Habitat home.
During slow days on the farm, Julio and his wife worked their 500 sweat-equity hours in the Habitat Store, and they did another 100 hours during the construction of their new home in the Birch Bay area. The family moved into their new home in August 2017.
“Living here, with my wife and kids, to have my own house, I feel completely happy. I trust in Habitat. I put my hope in Habitat. I’m thankful.”