Digging into her own pocket to pay for a band to entertain horse riders looking to preserve a tradition that began more than four decades ago, the grandmother of nine was a front-row seat to a cause that helped plight poor Mexican farmworkers living in trailers without running water or electricity.
Leticia Fernandez was 16 years old when she started working at Half-Way Store on Derek Street between Three Rocks and I-5.
A few years later, Christopherson met Sigurdur ‘Mexican Segui’ Christopherson on the first pilgrimage he organized to force county officials to do something.
“He wanted justice,” said Fernandez, who at the time lived in a ramshackle trailer with a newborn daughter, and there was little hope that Kristofferson and the original horse riders — including the late Julian Orozco and former Madeira County Superintendent Jesse Lopez – It can do a lot.
“It was hard to heat the water for her milk,” said Fernandez, who managed to graduate from Tranquility High School a semester early.
Some residents were evicted from rundown housing.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors rejected Kristofferson’s pleas for help. Therefore, the Icelandic admirer of Moreta began to ride a horse.
Television cameras, newspaper reporters and photographers eventually appeared and reported on the living conditions. Selp-Help companies and other organizations participate to help families with housing and other services.
“He got attention,” Fernandez said of Kristofferson. “After that, we thought we lived in heaven with running water and electricity.”
Fernandez—who was born in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, and became a US citizen in the early 1980s—was pleased with the changes horseback riding had brought about.
“We lived way better, you know,” Fernandez said. “I mean, we were in heaven on the north side of[Kanta Creek Elementary School].”
That was 40 years ago.
Today, Fernandez, who celebrated her 60th birthday on Saturday (July 30), wonders why it seems that living conditions haven’t improved much.
Trailers without electricity or running water are inhabited again. Fernandez said a barbecue got out of hand and burned down two trailers because there was no water to put out the flames.
Monthly rent is $1,000 for those lucky enough to buy a place. In nearby Canta Creek, you get $650 in a small spot. “We need more housing,” she said.
This awareness created by Kristofferson and the horse riders is but a distant memory for Fernandez, who moved from her tiny trailer to a double-width motorhome in Cantwa Creek where she still lives.
The little grocery store that used to sell meat, vegetables, and produce today lives on the snacks, beer, and drinks that a traveler would sometimes brag about.
Farm workers who bought meat and other non-food items have disappeared.
“The trees came and there was less labor,” Fernandez said, referring to farmers who decided to grow pistachios and almonds that required less labor than crops like cantaloupe and vegetables.
Fernandez had other problems with the store, which the previous owner unknowingly sold to her in 1997. “I cried for two hours when he said to me, ‘Okay, the store is yours.'”
The shop sat on South Pacific owned land, and in 1997 the railroad wanted to sell the land. Fernandez persuaded the company to let her buy the property.
So how did horseback riding music get started?
One year, her father rented a tricycle to perform in the store. That was when horse riders showed up and thought the musicians had been assigned to them.
“The jockeys told us they really appreciated music,” recalls Fernandez, who got rid of her father’s complaints that the trio was his daughter’s.
Since then, Fernandez has made sure horse riders have music when they show up on the last Sunday in July.
By the way, Fernandez has never ridden a horse.