Jorge Martinez: Here, there and everywhere

David Briggs
A native of Atemajec de Brizuela, Jorge Martinez has lived since his elementary years in West Marin, where he has worked a gamut of jobs and now serves in numerous social-service roles.   
08/29/2019

You’re sure you just saw Jorge Martinez when you grabbed your 5:30 a.m. coffee at Toby’s. Then, later that morning, he reappeared as your server in the restaurant where you had lunch. That same day, still out and about, you noticed him bussing tables late into the night at another restaurant. No, your eyes did not deceive you: It was the same guy. And you saw him working just a few of the jobs he’s held simultaneously in his 25 years in Point Reyes Station.

A hectic work schedule doesn’t seem to burden him. “There is not much to do in Point Reyes, and everything’s expensive, so this keeps me busy,” Jorge told me. Although he still finds a little time for soccer now and then, his almost 24/7 schedule must agree with him: the shy, soft-spoken man appears much younger than his 34 years. 

Jorge and his family came from Atemajac de Brizuela, a small Mexican town south of Guadalajara that, according to Jorge, is just a little bigger than Point Reyes and has the same pine trees. There was not much work, and when Jorge was 3 his family relocated to the town of Sonoma. His father secured a job on a dairy ranch but, unlike today, when most ranch workers are Hispanic, no one there spoke Spanish. His parents were accustomed to living in a very social community, and felt isolated in Sonoma. Jorge had an uncle nearby who actually made visits to a local Safeway just to talk to someone in Spanish. He himself had a difficult time in first grade, where he was the only Spanish-speaking student.

After two years, the family moved again, this time to what was then the Inverness Valley Inn, where his uncle lived. His parents were happy to be near relatives who worked at the nearby Giacomini and Stewart ranches, and Jorge was content at West Marin School, where there were students from the ranches. Jorge now spoke English, and became the family’s translator at the doctor’s office and at school. He recalls how, at the time, Hispanic students were taught in separate classes, “even those who spoke English well,” and a school rule forbade them from speaking their native language during school hours. “If you were caught you were in trouble, and there was even the threat of expulsion,” he said. “This practice ended once the outside community learned about it and there was pushback.”

Jorge graduated from Tomales High and went on to Santa Rosa Junior College, where he sought a major in architecture. Financial aid for the field was competitive, however, so he moved to Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in construction management. Although he has yet to work in the field, he dreams of doing so one day.

Jorge now lives in a nice home with his parents and two sisters  in the Point Reyes Station Affordable Housing, but he has lived in his share of substandard ranch housing. He has lived in homes with mold on the walls that were way too small (his parents would eventually have six children). These conditions still exist, he said, “but people take what is available.” At one time, his family lived in a trailer, where, if you pushed on the wall, you could see the stars at night.

These days, Jorge is busy wearing many hats. During the day, he has full-time work as a program manager for West Marin Community Services, where he works with Abriendo Caminos (or “Opening Paths”). The program, whose mission is “to empower and impart leadership tools to local Hispanics,” he said sponsors meetings, workshops and activities to help local Hispanics navigate systems that affect labor rights, housing, education and, more recently, immigration. The nonprofit recently received a grant to buy new sleeping bags and clothing for those in need, and Jorge’s work in West Marin Community Services’ food pantry brings him into contact with many of those people. He clearly enjoys the human interactions with those seeking food, hot soup and morning coffee. Many are farm workers, but there are a dozen or so homeless people who he says mostly live in their cars, in part due to rising rent prices. “They have no way of storing food, so they come in almost every day,” he said. 

After a full day at West Marin Community Services, Jorge moves on to Osteria Stellina for three or four hours. His job: An expeditor, the person who delivers your food to the table. He enjoys the camaraderie of old friends from previous workplaces. 

In his spare time, if there is such a thing, Jorge sits on the board for CLAM and the Priority Seating Commission of San Rafael, a group that makes recommendations to the county on how to better spend money on housing, homelessness and seniors. He is a trained mediator for the West Marin Community Mediation Board and a designated dispatcher for the West Marin Immigration Action Rapid Response Team. If ICE were to arrive in a neighborhood, he would receive the first call and then text others in the group who would respond to the area and record the events. So far there have only been rumors; “Someone saw someone with a uniform and called.” he said. Jorge believes that West Marin’s rural nature, with so much space between residences and businesses, translates to a low chance that ICE will visit the area.

Despite his accomplishments and longtime involvement in the community, Jorge still does not feel safe. “I feel like an immigrant,” he said. “Being in the shadows is a habit.” Before he and other immigrants were entitled to a driver’s license, he used to drive the back roads, and he is still cautious in his car. Since the Trump administration’s termination of DACA, Jorge, like many others in his situation, no longer feels secure in this country. Recently Jorge and his family went back for a visit to their ancestral home. He said it felt foreign to him. “It didn’t feel like home,” he said. “I realized then that Point Reyes is mi pueblo.”

 

Ellen Shehadeh has written for the Light, the West Marin Citizen, The Pacific Sun and the North Bay Bohemian, and interviewed artists and authors on KWMR, for 14 years. She lives in Inverness.