Information Behavior of Migrant Hispanic Farm Workers and Their Families in the Pacific Northwest

Reviewed By: Julieta Garcia, Cassandra Swartzwelder, Alexis Harmor, and Ysied Gillette

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Article Synopsis & Core Research Question(s)
Fisher, Marcoux, Miller, Sanchez, and Cunningham’s (2004) article explores the everyday information behavior of migrant Hispanic farm workers and their families in Central Washington State’s Yakima Valley. Despite Yakima Valley’s rich and successful agricultural production, along with its many assets such as high education, hospitals, & museums; it’s also an economically distraught city with high levels of unemployment and poverty. Yakima is a multiracial and multicultural city with three predominant groups, the Native American Yakama Tribe, Hispanics, and Caucasians. These three distinct and very polarized ethnic groups, constantly compete for resources, and most of all at the low end of the socioeconomic scale. The Hispanic population ranges from 4th generation farm migrant workers that speak English and hold some education to new arrival farm workers that possess the little education and are non-English speakers. The authors wanted to understand how this community of mostly Spanish speaking people get their information and how do they do it. The study took place in and around the two Community Technology Centers (CTCs), where members of the community can come and take classes, get information, and find assistance. Both CTCs (12,000 base clients) consist of a room with 25 computers open six days a week for classes and personal use. The study was guided by three core research questions:
1) What role does interpersonal information-seeking play in the lives of migrant Hispanic farm workers and their families?
2) What are the information grounds of these workers and their families?
3) For what types of situations do these farm workers share information using what media?
The authors of this Yakima Valley exploratory study utilized, in their methodology, used both qualitative and quantitative methods during their field observations at both CTC’S and in the surrounding community. Data collection approaches employed during the study included thirty to sixty minute in-depth interviews with CTC users. These interviews were not recorded because of the University of Washington Human Subject presented concerns regarding this at-risk population, which by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Belmont Report Code of Ethics, emphasizes on a systematic assessment of risks and benefits ration when human subject studies take place. Additional at length interviews were administered to staff and administrators. All interviews and questionnaires were provided in the primary language (or language of proficiency) of the subject. Bilingual questionnaires contained verbatim questions as those presented in the user interviews, and a sign-up sheet for participants to indicate their reasons for using the CTC. Data collection and analysis by the authors included the interviews or surveys of fifty-one CTC users and eight CTC staff. Collected demographics for the studied population indicated that most users were between seventeen and thirty years of age, 57% were male, 58% had jobs in agriculture, and household size is between two to eleven people. Throughout the study, to ensure validity and consistency in data analysis, the authors kept field notes (a record of their observations and contexts as well interacted with participants), method notes (description of their techniques for collecting data), and theory notes (documentation of ideas and connections with the study’s theoretical frameworks, and other phenomena) (Fisher, Marcoux, Miller, Sanchez, & Cunningham, 2004).
Findings & Conclusions
The study’s data analysis was consistent with the authors’ expected results. These anticipated results included the participants’ vacillation to participate due to their immigration status. Other findings also demonstrated that participants were hesitant to ask for information at the usual places like libraries or other information centers because of language barriers and lack of trust. Furthermore, the study showed that “immigrant and migrant farm workers may engage in the form of ‘interpersonal source berrypicking’” (Fisher, Marcoux, Miller, Sanchez, & Cunningham, 2004). Unlike most people who only spend a short time on searching for information, immigrants wait for the source to come to them, which can last a lifetime. This study proves that immigrant and migrant workers seek information from trusted interpersonal sources such as family, friends, & other trusted sources in barbershops and hair salons, food banks, co-workers, and church officials. Many of the participants that used the CTCs to find information centered on job finding, income support, ESL, GED, translation help, recreational information, computer help, etc.
The transitory migratory patterns and immigration status of the migrant farm worker population makes it notoriously difficult to study this community. Their collective reluctance to participate in studies, censuses, or any activity that collects their personal data or demographics is usually unwelcome as it could jeopardize their work/status. The authors further found that language is a huge problem for immigrant families, especially when documents and information portals are only written in English. Many families will consult or utilize their children, who have become familiarized with English, to translate and will eventually become their family’s main source of information. The utilization of children as translators and major sources of information drastically change the parent/child dynamic by placing the child in an adult role, often taking care of adult responsibilities such as cashing checks. Immigrants also turn to media for information. Spanish-speaking radio and television stations that serve the migrant community play a significant role in providing immigrants with information. The only Spanish radio station (KDNA 91.9FM) is housed with one of the CTC in the area with 60,000 listeners.
Unanswered Questions & Further Research
The authors recognize the need for future research concerning the differences between information grounds and habits of illegal immigrants versus legal immigrants. Several mitigating factors that influence the difference in information patterns and service disconnects, such as the city library or free health care, reside in the low or general lack of language and literacy skills. Also, as earlier stipulated in the study, the ever-present fear of negative employment opportunities or immigration status outweighs their informational needs and therefore avoidance of places where they might have to provide some documentation. Despite the authors’ steps to ensure reliability and validity to this study, their small drawn sampling group of approximately 50 individuals was very low considering its much larger potential of 12,000 people in relation to their population ratio. This significantly lower representation creates concerns about statistical significance and accurate population representation.
Further research in the Yakima Valley could answer what additional barriers exist between the three main groups, their shared resources, and what can be done to facilitate intercultural relationships. It could be argued that because the CTC is a newer provider in comparison to the NCEC that its users did not trust or felt comfortable to participate in the study. Another factor could be that despite Yakima Valley’s twenty plus physical libraries, their actual conditions and service offering are unknown. The Yakima Valley library’s service further comes into doubt when accounting for the area’s persistent low socioeconomic level and the likelihood of not possessing the resources to staff bilingual individuals, staff or volunteers, or house a CTC. The library’s only official information is the one provided by the library’s website, which is English based and a small Spanish collection. Regardless of the multiple reasons, the current extensive collection of post-secondary educational resources, churches, and cultural institutions could be utilized as a bridge to build trusted interconnected relationships between ethnic boundaries and pool resources for all residents.

Fisher, K. E., Marcoux, E. B., Miller, L. S., Sanchez, A., & Cunningham, E. R. (2004).
Information Behavior of Migrant Hispanic Farm Workers and Their Families in the
Pacific Northwest. iRinformationresearch, 10(1). Retrieved from