With today’s intense political climate, it’s important for us all to stay informed. Recently I read an article in The New York Times that shocked me: “California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers.” You see, I’m the daughter of a field worker and know firsthand how important my dad’s work (and others like him) has meant to this country.
I was born in Sacramento, California but was primarily raised in the Imperial Valley near the Mexican – American border (literally less than five miles from the border fence). I know what you may be thinking but yes, there is indeed a fence and in many areas there are several layers of fencing!
The nearest metropolitan city is two hours away – San Diego, California. Usually when the Imperial Valley makes news it is in relation to drug busts, its unemployment rate, teen pregnancies, and agriculture. But there’s so much more going on here! Of course, I can acknowledge what that the Imperial Valley has to offer now, but when I was younger, I dreamed of moving back to a big city. Instead, I lived with my parents on our four acre piece of land we called “the ranch” surrounded by the fields my dad picked for farmers.
My father was born in Mexico but was raised in the States from the age of 14 onward. He did not graduate high school, as he struggled with the transition from life in Mexico to the United States. However, he made it work and has lived in the United States ever since holding a green card for forty plus years. My father has contributed in various jobs but his one stagnant position has been as a field worker. Hardened with signs of the job in every wrinkle in his eyes you can see his sweetness, warmth, and hope for his only child. He’d tell me if I didn’t get to school, or if I misbehaved badly, that when I was of age, I’d too go work in the fields. If you hang around him for five minutes he will talk your ear off (with a Benicio Del Toro accent) and give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it. That’s just the kind of hard-working generous man he is.
Often, I would stand near our trailer hearing the birds and owls into the night like a scene out of a hacienda-themed telenovela. I’d witness the sun setting over the San Diego mountains, dreaming of when I would live in a big city again. As an adult, I am ashamed to admit that I was embarrassed of him in school. He would pick me up in the most beat down car with the most ripped up clothes and could easily pass for a homeless man. He would tell me not to worry about what others thought and to just focus on getting an education so that I didn’t have to struggle. He would say a parent’s role was to sacrifice all they can to propel the next generation forward.
When I wasn’t daydreaming or playing in the dirt, I was in school. But every day it was virtually impossible to not see the men and women picking in the fields as we rode a combination of paved and dirt roads on the country bus route, for about an hour each morning. I’d stare out that window and feel the pain for their labor, sweat, and sacrifice. They were giving their bodies and minds to the work, usually trying to make ends meet but still living in poverty. They had a hard journey just to make it to the field. Most woke up by 4 a.m. hoping to be chosen to work that day only to collect a minimal amount then hope for “luck of being chosen” the next day. I’d woken up many times hearing my mom pack my father’s lunch or helping him get ready for the day. There were never briefcases on the kitchen table or talk of 401K’s just tools, love, and hard work.
I was good at school but loathed going. It wasn’t just because of the daily commute or guilt and sympathy for the field workers, but also because of the school children. My school was about one-third farmer families (owners of the fields my father picked), one-third field worker kids and one-third other parent’s professions. I never really had a close circle of friends. I was not wealthy enough for the children of the farmers, not “Mexican” enough for the fellow field workers’ kids and not “American” enough for the other group. Sure, I spoke Spanish (it was my first language) but what I reflect upon now is in an attempt to fit in I spoke less and less of it starting in Pre-school. It slowly became Spanglish. English eventually became my first language.
Despite all of this, like everyone else, I did grow up and achieve success in the eyes of my parents. I won awards, became a cheerleader, graduated high school and went to college. While at the university, I was a student event coordinator. I was afforded the opportunity to organize an event and meet Mrs. Dolores Huerta herself! Dolores Huerta was a pioneer alongside Cesar Chavez in the formation of the farm workers union for the labor rights movement in the 1960’s. She is a civil rights activist, woman, and hero of change in the Latino community. I remember feeling so inspired by her; given my background it was like meeting a celebrity. I still have a signed flyer from the event, like a total fan girl.
Unfortunately this cute story was short-lived. While I was telling the story of how I met her to a group of friends, a friend’s boyfriend (not realizing at the time he was the son of a farm owner, being primed to help take over the family business) joined the conversation. I was talking about field worker’s rights and their struggles, some of which are a part of my struggles and about how to inspire others to better themselves. As we stood around the bed of his truck, drinking beer, in front of his million-dollar home, the farmer immediately tried deflating my excitement, almost violently. I instantly felt physically ill. The rush of discrimination I’d experienced as a child flooded back. I didn’t attack him, nor did I say being a farmer was bad.
I do not know the struggle of a farmer as I have not experienced that side of life but have never understood why some feed into the “secure our borders from the Mexicans” or “immigration is bad” alt-right agenda. It’s almost comical since so many ranchers and farmers heavily rely on first or second-generation undocumented and documented immigrants to help support their businesses. Why not support your workforce that do the back-breaking work? It was that night with the farmer incident in college that I realized that no matter how far I come in education and opportunity, I would always be caught between my past of being a farm workers’ daughter and the modern world of self-preservation. My father’s sacrifice and my mother’s strong will aided me in graduating college and now I hold a bachelor’s degree from a top university. Additionally, I have spent many years working in the non-profit sector, have been a marketing and public relations professional and have business ideas of my own on the rise.
When allowed the luxury, I give back to my parents for all they gave to me in love and compassion and promote the experiences I had in the Imperial Valley. Those experiences made me who I am today. I may not have “picked fields,” but am the daughter of a field worker and proudly remind myself how far one can come in one or two generations simply by being in this great nation. We need to protect America and the rights of all, including immigrants.