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Living the American dream

MABTON - When Arturo Salazar immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1976, his first housing was a gated tent on a farm where he earned $2.50 an hour.

Today, Salazar is the proud owner of Familia Salazar Dairy in Mabton.

For those first few weeks in America, Salazar slept on hay. After that, the employer he was working for let Salazar rent a trailer.

Salazar continued to work in the Lower Yakima Valley, picking and pruning fruit.

His first "good job," he said, was working with grapes. That employer taught Salazar how to drive a tractor.

Salazar quickly learned that if he was going to live here, he better learn to speak English.

"I had no papers, no English, no nothing," he recalled.

He heard about some tapes while listening to the radio that would help him learn the language. After purchasing them, he caught on and began to speak the language.

When work for the vineyard owner ran out after 10 years, someone recommended Salazar work for a dairy.

"I'm thinking, 'I don't know what a dairy is, so why not'," he recalled.

Eventually, Salazar raised bulls in Zillah on land he purchased while working in dairies in the Lower Valley. That enabled him to buy some acreage in Mabton.

"One day my son (Manuel) asked me, 'Hey dad, can we build a dairy?'," he said. Salazar's answer to his son was yes, but only if his son would help him.

Once the dairy was built, Salazar had cows to buy, after already securing a contract.

But before production could start, Manuel passed away.

But, said Salazar, "I had to continue."

It's not easy to build a dairy, he said. In fact, when he would tell people what he was doing, some laughed.

But, he said, "I don't know how, I got my dairy."

Now, he's got almost 11 years into the dairy business, running his own outfit.

What began as a small operation has now grown into a dairy featuring 320 cows. Salazar sold the Zillah property and now devotes his time to the Mabton dairy.

Always lurking in the back of his mind, though, was the feeling that he needed to become a U.S. citizen.

"I never had the time. I always worked, worked, worked," he said.

Four years ago, he took the test and failed. Too busy working, he said, "I never had time to study."

But he kept the tapes teaching him American history. And he listened.

"I thought, I've got to (try) again," he said.

He kept listening to the tapes. "I've got a good memory, I remember a lot of things," he said.

This time, Salazar took the test and passed. He officially became a United States citizen just last week, on May 28.

How does it feel? "It's hard to explain. I feel happy. It's something special for my family," he said.

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