September 18, 2005


Mexican Workers Step Right Up: Country Fairs in the Northeast Depend on Their Manpower (Jodie Tillman, 9/18/05, Valley News)

The little boy froze, shrieked and demanded to be let out of the jungle-themed obstacle course.

The man who had silently taken his pink tickets moments earlier could not understand what the boy was saying. But he understood what he meant.

Francisco Leyva Martinez gestured to the boy's mother that she could go and fetch him. He smiled and pointed the way as she hurried past.

And then Martinez seemed to fade back into painted trees and birds of the jungle, tapping his foot lightly to Hakuna Matata blaring over the speakers, watching the parade of parents holding their children's hands and their children holding their tickets pass him by at the Tunbridge World's Fair yesterday.

Martinez and the other 40 Mexicans who ran rides and games at the fair this weekend cut a low profile among a Tunbridge Fair work force filled with entrepreneurs and community organizers and 4-H kids, relying instead on their quiet watchfulness to bridge the language and cultural divides.

They have also helped supply the manpower for popular rides like the Cobra and the Sea Dragon at Northeastern fairs like the one in Tunbridge for the last six months, staying on short-term visas that allow them to travel with an entertainment company and make about $300 each week that they can wire to their families in Mexico or take with them when they return home next month.

“Here the money is not much, but in Mexico that's maybe (worth) double,” said 21-year-old Lucio Hernandes Monfil, one of a handful of the workers who speaks fluent English.

The Mexicans, as well as about 30 Americans, work for the Pittsfield, Mass.-based Gillette Shows from May to October, said Jerry Gillette. The company runs all the rides and many of the games at the Tunbridge fair.

Gillette started hiring Mexicans on temporary work visas about five years ago, he said, when he could not find enough Americans willing to work the six-month circuit.

“They work until their job is done,” said Gillette. “They're excellent workers.”

What about all the mothers who dreamt of their kids growing up to be carnies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2005 1:15 PM
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