Thanks to Farmworker Justice for its support in documenting this story.
(SANTA MARIA, CA) Growing up in a farmworking family – well, it’s everything I ever knew. Whenever I got out of school, it was straight to the fields to get a little bit of money and help the family out. That’s pretty much the only job I ever knew. In general we would work on the weekends and in the summers. When I was younger it would be right after school, and then during vacations.
My sister Teresa slept in the living room and one night when I was doing my homework at the table, I could hear her crying because she had so much pain in her hands. My mother and my other sister complained about how much their backs hurt. My brother talked about his back pain as well. It’s pretty sad. I always hear my family talk about how much they’re in pain and how’s it’s impossible for me to help them.
I always moved. In my high school years, I moved six times. In junior high I moved three times and in elementary school I’m not sure. I went to six different elementary schools. For a while we went to Washington to work, but aside from that it’s always been in Santa Maria. We’d move because the lease ended and we couldn’t afford the rent, so we tried to look for a cheaper place.
Hieronyma Hernandez picks strawberries in a crew of indigenous Oaxacan farm workers in a field near Santa Maria. Many members of the crew are Mixteco migrants from San Vincente, a town in Oaxaca, Mexico. The earth in the beds is covered in plastic, while in between the workers walk in sand and mud. Working bent over the plants all day is very painful and exhausting.
We always lived with other families. The first time I can remember we lived with four other families. The second house we lived with five families. Each family gets their own room and does their own cooking. They get their own space in the kitchen cabinets and the refrigerator. When they cook in the morning before work it gets pretty chaotic in there.
It’s hard sharing the bathroom with so many people in the house. They try to kid around about it. I remember I was always a morning student, so I would wake up and take a shower. My older siblings would tell me to get out because I already had a huge line waiting for me to finish. It was always in and out, flush after flush. In the morning people are rushing to work so they try and make the best out of it. Plus you can’t be late or you lose your job.
Sabina Cayetano and her son Aron live with other members of her family in one room in an apartment in Santa Maria. Many Mixtec families live here, and in the spring and summer they work picking strawberries.
The first time I worked in the fields was when I was seven, in Washington, where I picked cucumbers. It was summer. We didn’t go to school in Washington [but] the foremen never said anything because my brother knew them. He worked in the crew, so the foremen were OK with it. There were other kids there as well. It wasn’t a huge company, just a small rancher.
When they paid by the hour we couldn’t work. If [workers] were paid by the hour and they were slow, the foreman would send them home and not let them work anymore. They would only let kids work if they were doing piece rate. We were actually really slow because we were only in third or fourth grade.
ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Mixtec Dreams | mexmigration: History and Politics of Mexican Immigration.