From 10,000 feet, Salinas resembles an uncut diamond in the middle of a patchwork quilt of lettuce fields. To journalist and author Claudia Meléndez Salinas, it says a lot about her adopted home: With the right perspective, Salinas holds gems that otherwise remain obscured.

“Salinas might not always seem pretty in the traditional sense,” Meléndez Salinas says while sitting at the Cherry Bean, a coffee shop in Oldtown Salinas. “But the history, hard work and resolve of the people, especially the Latino community, has made for a place with a strong cultural identity.”

The city of 160,000 is often overlooked by people who come to Monterey County to visit Cannery Row and the aquarium, the pastoral Carmel Valley and rugged, world-famous Big Sur. It’s widely known as the childhood home of and inspiration to Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, as the source of most of the nation’s lettuce and leafy greens, and as a city long plagued by issues related to poverty.

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The face of the United States is changing rapidly. To look at the face of the future, look no further than public schools. Kids and teens have fewer hang-ups about the identities of their peers. Yet, there is a troubling national trend at hand. While the U.S. is growing more diverse as a whole, its schools are becoming resegregated. Children from different racial, ethnic and income groups are now less likely to find themselves in a classroom with each other than they were two decades ago.

In Monterey County, the changing demographics of schools are more nuanced than the national picture, with schools in the Salinas Valley becoming almost exclusively Latino and Monterey Peninsula schools growing more diverse.

To see how local schools have changed in the past two decades, the Weekly collected and analyzed data from California Department of Education for the 1995-96 and the 2015-16 school years, as well as U.S. Census data from 2000 and 2015 for seven county school districts (see graph, p. 22) that account for the majority of students countywide.

After compiling spreadsheets and crunching numbers, three main trends emerge: White populations are aging faster in comparison to other ethnic groups, in part because their adult children no longer live in the area; many African-American families have left for other regions; and the Latino population continues to increase across the board.

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A flatbed truck converted into a bus carried 55 braceros – farm workers on temporary visas – from labor camp in Chualar to celery fields in the Salinas Valley on September 17, 1963. The bus collided with an oncoming train, killing 32 and leaving the rest mangled and injured.

The tragedy in Monterey County garnered national headlines and the bracero program, which was maligned by Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement that rallied around him, was soon killed by Congress. The legacy of the braceros has remained in a cloud since, often remembered by the painful conclusion.

In the narrative of social justice in the fields, the bracero program – which brought more than 2 million men from Mexico to work the land in the United States from 1942 to 1964 – has long been one derided as one that exploited immigrant workers. It was also viewed as bad for domestic workers, who saw their wages decline.

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CSUMB senior Elizabeth Hensley discusses her thoughts on current politics.

This year millennials will match the Baby Boomers, those between 52 and 70 years old, as the generation with the largest pool of eligible voters. By 2020 they’re projected to be the largest by a margin of 6 percent. They have also replaced Generation X, 36 – to 51-year-olds, as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.

It’s a generation born into high healthcare costs, skyrocketing student debt and a more fragmented job market that pushes precarious, gig-based work as opposed to the steady jobs known to previous generations.

But it remains to be seen if this generation will throw its weight around and help shape the results of this year’s presidential, state and local elections.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

56b2978e2a190.imageOn June 8, 2015, several men left port in Punta Banda, a peninsula just south of Ensenada in Baja California, and motored out to sea in a 30-foot skiff called a panga.

Pangas don’t attract much attention in Baja, as they are common for local fishermen to use.

Only Juan Antonio Rojo, Jose Burgueno Sanchez, Victor Sandoval, Jesus Isrealas Carrion Corrales and likely a few others weren’t in search of fish. They were looking to land something much more lucrative: a $2 million-plus payout for a successful shipment of marijuana.

Their destination: Big Sur. With extensive wilderness and minimal law enforcement, the region lends itself to clandestine activity. The pangas’ low profile and two high-horsepower engines make them hard to spot and speedy in case of pursuit.

Few people who make land in Big Sur with a cache of drugs ever get apprehended. Not so for this group.

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David Lopez woke up wet and shivering on the ground behind a row of hedges in downtown Monterey. To say he woke up might be saying too much. The chilly night didn’t give him much rest. As the first pedestrians of the day started walking by his sleeping quarters, he pulled himself up, brushed off as much mud as he could and made his way down to the waterfront hoping he could find company with one of his few friends.

Lopez is a sturdily built man who once lived a violent life on the streets of Salinas, but at 66, life outside is wearing on him. He says he feels tired. He looks exhausted. He wonders if a trip to the ER or a night or two in jail might make him feel better. But what he really wants is a backpack, or better yet, a blanket. His was stolen a few days earlier, making life in the darkening days of late November harder than normal.

He walks toward Cannery Row where his friend Douglas slept on the beach. Douglas finds himself on the streets for a different reason: Substance abuse and likely mental illness stripped him of his tenuous hold on a working-class existence. Lopez, on the other hand, says he was released from prison in 2012 after spending 35 years behind bars, a senior citizen with no family to stay with, and no marketable skills.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…