Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 12:00 PM
When Ramon Ayala arrived in the U.S. from Mexico more than four decades ago, he owned little. He worked in the fields of Washington, pruning trees and picking fruit.
His employer, orchardist Steve Newhouse, saw that Ayala was one of those workers who "got it" and promoted him to supervisor. Newhouse also encouraged Ayala to strike out on his own, even going so far as to help with the down payment on his first 10 acres.
"I hated to lose him to his own farm," Newhouse told our reporter, Steve Brown. "But he's not afraid to work. He stays real busy. He'll make anything work he wants to."
Ayala applied a combination of inspiration and perspiration to grow his operation, and now he is a successful farmer.
Bee Cha took a decidedly different route to the U.S. Leaving his native Laos after the Vietnam War, he migrated first to a refugee camp in Thailand. Because his family had helped the U.S. during the war, they were allowed to apply for resettlement here, ultimately arriving in Washington state.
"It was how we came here -- not by boat, but by jet," Cha said. "Whenever someone stereotypes me as FOB -- fresh off the boat -- I often reply, 'I'm not FOB. I'm FOJ -- fresh off the jet.'"
Now he helps other Hmong refugees from Laos get started farming, growing flowers and other crops that they sell at Pike Place Market in Seattle and elsewhere.
Ayala and Cha are among more than 100,000 first-generation American farmers who arrived in the U.S. with little more than hope and a dream -- to farm.
In that sense, they are very much like the pioneers who came to the New World. Beginning five centuries ago, they arrived from Europe and gained a foothold along the East Coast of North America and began to move westward.
They came from England, Ireland, The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany -- around the world. All they wanted was a chance and a patch of land.
Many got that chance by homesteading. Others followed the Oregon Trail and other westward conduits for the opportunity to lay down roots.
The hardships were many, but so were the rewards as generation after generation continue to follow in the footsteps of those original immigrants.
Today, the U.S. remains a nation of immigrants. We welcome those who arrive here in pursuit of a dream and who want to work to make that dream a reality.