A Tale of Two Families (Part I of III part Series)

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Even when my father drove the rural route of Highway 124 in southeastern Washington State in the mid-1970s looking for work as an undocumented Mexican immigrant, the Tagares family owned an operated one the the largest vineyards. My dad sought work in the offseason of Washington’s bi-furcated harvest system that begins in the early summer for cherries, onions, asparagus and berries, and peaks again in the fall for apples, vineyards and grain.

Tagares farm was one of the leads he had heard in the Albertson’s grocery-store parking lot in Pasco, where folks gathered to get their weekly food supply (mandado). (In those days, Albertson’s had a no-questions-asked check cashing policy so long as you bought your groceries on site and farmworkers were paid weekly wages). 

My father recounts the chat with a seasoned farmworker taking respite from the heat in the shade of the Albertson’s building with a couple of buddies. My then 30-year-old father introduced himself as Tomás, greeted them all with a handshake and asked how they were doing (¿Como estan?). The weary farmworker responded, “Pues estámos jodidos, Tomasito,”(Well, we’re downtrodden, little Tomas) a response that reminded my father of home in Mexico, and his own maternal grandfather who used to respond in the same way. My father offered the customary, “Hay, que Caray,” (Oh Bother) to acknowledge a shared predicament. Later in the conversation, he shared that he was looking for work in the off-season and had heard there were opportunities further southeast of the Yakima Valley from friends and coworkers. The farmworkers shared where they worked, and shared that they were working low hours at sub-minimum wage. My father asked why they would do such a thing, the elder farmworker responded playfully, “Pues, aqui Taggares o no tragaris” (It’s either Taggares or you don’t eat).

Though my father stopped by the main office of Taggares on Highway 124 to pick up an application and ask if there was work, he continued on his path and ended up taking employment with a wheat farmer in Eureka. His first job was walking the inside of a grain elevator, scraping the grain from the walls and removing the dead vermin to get it ready for harvest. I suppose that even in the late 1970s this was better than working for Taggares.

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Pete Taggares, Sr.

According to their family history, the patriarch of the American branch of the family, Pete Tagaris, left Greece to find his fortune in the Americas when he was 18 years old. At Ellis Island, as with many immigrant families, the family name “Tagaris” was misspelled as “Taggares” (Tagaris Family History). The man worked building America’s railroads into the west and settled in Prosser, Washington where he was granted a homestead from the lands that the U.S. Government had stolen from the Yakama Nation as a result of the Yakama Wars. By the time of his death, Pete Taggares owned a car dealership, a hardware store, a grocery store, a bank, a potato processing plant, and farmed over 1,000 acres (Ibid).

 

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Pete II Taggares

 

His son Pete II continued in the Industrial Agriculture business, with a base in Othello, Washington and which Snake River Vineyards the farm that my father rejected is a satellite farm. Pete III began working in the family business in 1975 as a Vice-President and co-owner of PJ Taggares Company and now continues to work as a consultant for Taggares Fruit Company. Pete IV just recently returned to the family business and is running the branch that operates Snake River Vineyards.

 

Pete II’s brother, Michael Taggares “presently farms 1,400 acres, 1.5 million Fuji apple trees (King Fuji Ranch & Bench One) and 700 Acres of wine grapes (Areté Vineyards) in the newly recognized Wahluke AVA with 18 varieties, including Petit Verde, Malbec, Counoise, Mouvedre, Granache, and Tempranillo” (Ibid). After the family history was last updated, Tagaris Winery and Taverna Tagaris were added as a jewel that contributes about USD $2,200,000 annually to this corporate empire that was so clearly facilitated by U.S. Settler Colonialism with a total revenue of USD $57,800,000 according to Dun & Bradstreet reports.

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King Fuji Ranch Farmworker Strike June 11, 2019                        Photo by Edgar Franks

A company that extracts so much wealth from their workers, that has a tremendous amount of operations though they are from the same family, has not been able to move towards providing farmworkers with a decent wage, regular hours in over 40 years.