Drive fifty miles southeast of Fresno through countless acres of blooming almond and pecan orchards, and you’ll come upon the little town of Cutler-Orosi. A farm settlement largely unchanged by the decades, it moves to the rhythm of the surrounding crops.
Its residents are mostly Latino farm laborers and their families, and as they move up and out, the town’s population of 5,000 is replenished by new arrivals from Mexico, a timeless cycle matched in dozens of little towns across California’s Central Valley.
But there is one way in which Cutler-Orosi is remarkable. At a time when teen pregnancy rates have been dropping across California, the rates in Cutler-Orosi and surrounding Tulare County are consistently among the highest in the state.
For the daughters of migrant workers, the factors that influence whether they become pregnant can be very different from those affecting their urban and suburban counterparts. Often there are language barriers affecting their ability to learn about safe sex as well as connect with English speakers in the community. Many girls cope with being de facto first-generation Americans, navigating a U.S. high school while their parents remain steeped in the values of the old country. Since their parents often leave for work as early as 4:00 a.m., many teens are left alone a great deal, with many preparing younger siblings as well as themselves for school.