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Working the fields

Under the scorching sun, sweat drips from every part of her body. She constantly fears suffering dehydration, or even heat stroke. She continues to drink water. The work day lasts from 3:00 a.m. until 4 in the afternoon.

This continuous exhaustion in the fields was summer for senior Estefania Galicia as it was for other Stagg students.

Wanting to help her mom and herself financially, Galicia began to work the summer before her junior year. “I knew school was coming up, so I didn’t want to ask my mom for money,” she said. Galicia often gave some portion of her check to support her mom.

At the time her godmother was working in the fields, which made it easy for her to get a job there. “I called her and within minutes she called back saying to be ready by 3:00 a.m. the next day.”

Galicia made sure to wear the appropriate attire for this demanding job: long sleeve shirt, pants, hat and a bandana around her mouth. This protected her body from the sun but also from the chemicals. “My godmother warned me about this. There was chemicals that could burn your skin while working.”

Along with the chemicals, the heat waves were inescapable. “I would hear around that people were fainting because of how hot it was,” she said.

Working in the fields requires doing different tasks everyday, Galicia’s first week required her to do la pala. Doing la pala consists of using a shovel, choosing a row of trees and removing the unwanted roots. This process would take about two minutes according to Galicia but what slowed her down was the weight of the shovel. Because of how heavy it was, she would accidently hit her legs, leaving behind bruises.

After feeling familiar with what she was doing, she was transferred to cleaning grapes. Galicia had to remove the dark parts of the grapes using a specialized knife or scissors, which often cut her fingers. “Sometimes I would even cut my nails,” she said with an awkward laugh.

At times Galicia would accidently cut the wrong branches making it obvious she made a mistake. Her mayordomo, or boss, corrected her, but it was never a serious problem. “Everybody there was family or somehow related. The mayordomo was easy on us.”

At the end of the shift, upon hearing “Ya vamonos raza!” she’d rush to the van to go back home. “As soon as I get to the car I would knock out, I was that tired.”  

The vans used to give rides to the workers had no air conditioning, no seat belts or no functioning brakes. This almost led to two car accidents, she said.

“I was sleeping and I suddenly felt like I was moving forward.” This was the instant she opened her eyes and realized how close they were to crashing.

Working as a teenager in the fields, Galicia sees it as a temporary job. But where she worked, adults and even elderly were out toiling under the 100-degree heat during the harvest.

“Working in the fields gets you nowhere,” Galicia said. “You can’t maintain yourself if you have a family back at home.”

With little experience compared to Galicia, junior Alejandro Muñoz worked over the summer in an apple field for one day. “I went with two of my friends just to see what it was like,” he said. He and his friends left before time due to the heat that day. “I don’t know how the other people do that everyday, I couldn’t take it.”

By the end of July, senior Lizette Ramos realized working in the fields wasn’t worth it. Ramos spent her summer picking onions along her mom, aunt and uncle. “I honestly felt confident working there, but doing the same thing all day gets extremely tiring,” she said. Her back began to ache every time she would bend down. It was normal to see workers dragging themselves on the ground in order to get the task done.

Between three people per row, buckets were filled throughout the day transferring the onions into bags. The bags are about half of Ramos’s height.

Ramos said it’s ridiculous when immigrants are accused of stealing American’s jobs. “We’re willing to do whatever to earn short money. Meanwhile, others complain about us. Instead of complaining they should take the opportunity to work.”

Not only was this task exhausting and painful, it did not pay enough, according to Ramos. Every filled bag of onions was worth $1.15. She and her mom were outraged because of the pay, but they felt they had no option.

“If you really need the money, you just have to put up with it.”

 

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Working the fields