By Pedro Alvarez
WINDSOR, CA – Pedro Alvarez is a migrant farm worker in Windsor. His children and grandchildren live in northern California. He speaks Triqui, a language spoken by indigenous people in his hometown of Santa Cruz Rio Venado, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Copyright David Bacon
I came here the first time in 1985 and went to work at in a vineyard. I didn’t know how to do the work at first, but I eventually learned how to prune, plant, tie vines and remove leaves. I also worked the grape harvest. I already had experience working outdoors on many ranches and in the fields in Oaxaca. It was easier working back there, though.
After a couple of years I brought my son Alejandro to the U.S. He began to work with us, but then cut his hand. The contractor said, “He can’t work. He has to go to school.” I didn’t know anything about the school system, but a friend helped me enroll him in high school. Alejandro graduated and went on to attend college in Sacramento. Two of my sons later joined me and then I brought my family to the U.S. in 1999. My wife, daughter and grandchildren all came.
I work in the fields to help my family. I worked a few years at one winery and then changed companies. It was very hard working for the second winery because they pressured us to work extremely fast, and they did not even provide us with water. You had to be strong, but some people couldn’t handle the conditions. The soil was hard; to do some jobs you had to walk with a shovel and a sack of fertilizer. People used to faint during the harvest because the work was so difficult. If you were behind the others by 20 plants, there was no work for you the next day.
When I first came I went to Oregon and harvested strawberries, cucumbers and blackberries. It was hard because we were paid by the pound when harvesting strawberries and by the bucket when harvesting cucumbers — not by the hour. I earned about $300 a week. If you didn’t work fast, though, you couldn’t earn that.
When I first came alone, I couldn’t rent an apartment. I lived under a tree with five others. We lived next to a ranch, but they didn’t have any available rooms. It rains a lot in Oregon, and there we were under a tree. The blankets got wet, but we managed to go to work the next day.
After I brought my wife, we rented a room. At first my children stayed back at home in Oaxaca. We only had work for three months each year. It wasn’t a good situation, because there was so little work and hardly any money. With three months work we had to support ourselves, plus our kids back in Oaxaca, for the next nine months that followed. We had to save enough money when we were working to pay the rent when we weren’t. Otherwise, where were we to go? There was enough money for food but nothing more. We wanted to buy other things, but there was no money because we had so little work.
By Teresa Mondar
SANTA MARIA, CA – Teresa Mondar is a farm worker from Oaxaca, who began working in the fields of north Mexico when she was eight. Today she is disabled by arthritis and lives in an apartment with her family in a poor neighborhood of Santa Maria, CA.
Copyright David Bacon
I’ve worked many years in the fields here in the United States. Many years. I left Oaxaca when I was four years old. I don’t remember my time there. We moved to Baja California and I began to work there when I was eight years old, picking tomatoes. We came to the United States after that. My memories of that time are very sad because I had to work out of necessity. I started working in the United States at fourteen in California and in Washington State. My mother couldn’t support my younger siblings alone, and I’m the eldest daughter. I couldn’t go to school because my mother had younger children to support.
I started in the fields with strawberries and squash and weeding the fields. My very first job was picking strawberries. The foremen asked how old I was, but I lied about my age because I needed to work. I covered my face while working so they wouldn’t see my true age. We just worked there for the first five years, and then we went to Washington to pick strawberries, cucumbers and blueberries. We’d only go for a short time — two to three months — and then return to California.
By Guadalupe Navarro Hernandez
Guadalupe (right) working in the United States
My name is Guadalupe Navarro Hernandez. I migrated to the United States three times. The first time, I was 12, the second time I was 23, and the last time I did it was not long ago.
I migrated to the United States because I could not find a job here, in Mexico, and
because the little money that my family earned was not enough to support my children or to pay for our most pressing needs. Leaving my family was very painful, but I wanted to be able to provide for them. I wanted the American Dream.
By Jonathan Cortez
My name is Jonathan Cortez. I am 24 years of age and I am from Veracruz, Mexico. I currently live in Fellsmere, Florida. I am the oldest child and I have three younger sisters. I was born on February 2nd, 1989. I attended Sebastian River High and I went to Indian River State College for two years. My current occupations include: DJ, photographer, video and film producer, web developer, computer technician and computer repair specialist.
I came here to the U.S when I was about six years old, and my life as an immigrant has been tough. We came here to this country to have a better life and a better education. My parents spent over 10 years as migrant farm workers, so I never got to finish a year in school because I had to move so much. It was sad moving from state to state, but my parents recognized that it had to be done to support our family.