Photo: J. Soto-Gonzalez, first prize art contest winner ages 14–18
Let us congratulate Lizeth and Zulema for the impossible trek they have conquered.
Lizeth speaks of the extremes of heat, self-reliance at an early age, the round the clock labor universe of farm worker (“plant — pick and pack”) and the all encompassing knowing that all this is to sustain all life. It is incredible to know that a 10 to 13-year-old wrote this with such wisdom and compassion — a hard earned essay.
Zulema charts the long cycle of migrant generations, the year-long calendar — from Asparagus to Apples — crushing through school schedules and towns. She wants to break the cycle of poverty — the same one my father dreamed of dismantling in the 1950’s. Zulema has succeeded.
So we congratulate these chroniclers of migrant struggle and continuity, these wisdom-word writers for a just Now.
Juan Felipe Herrera
Zulema Lopez, 17
1st place – Essay Contest Winner Ages 14-18
It’s a summer day, the sun is rising, and the sound of my mother’s cooking awakes me. Her meal will be enough to get us through the day that awaits us. One would think this is about a child that awakens to her mother’s cooking to go to school like any other ordinary child, but that isn’t the case here. My life is much more complex, even to this day. I live day by day struggling to get past each month with my family. Working in the fields is all we know, it’s all we think we’re good at, it’s what we do to survive.
My family has been working in the fields for many generations; I as a fourth generation farm worker continue this cycle. We travel from Texas, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, and even Tennessee. A typical summer for our family is going to Michigan and starting to work right away. While most families are on summer vacations, we are working. We have no days off. “Our ordinary lifestyle,” is what we call it. We must work the fields, because we know that’s the only source of income our family will get and we know the struggle it takes to support ourselves.
Our summer starts off with asparagus season for about four weeks. We work about ten to twelve hours every day. Then followed by the strawberry season, which is about 5 to 6 weeks, depending on how it grows. As soon as the strawberry season ends, it gets tougher. Cucumber season begins, which involves working fifteen to sixteen hours a day. We work from sunrise to sundown. At this point, we work in the hottest time of the summer. As much as I would like for our farm work to end there, it doesn’t. Harvesting apples in my opinion is not the easiest, but it’s the nicest. I always say this is my favorite crop to pick, only because it’s in the winter. Due to the time change, it gets darker and we get to go home earlier. This is just a glimpse into my family’s summer and early winter.
Falling behind in my studies is the main problem that I face every time I move from state to state to work in the fields. For example, during my freshmen year I attended four high schools. I was devastated when my counselor advised me that I was lacking credits and that I was going to be a 2nd year Freshman. Luckily my counselor arranged for me to attend summer school. I dedicated my summer to my studies and managed to gain two credits and catch up in school; though not going to work in the summer set me back financially. I usually struggle when I change schools, because all of my classes are all very advanced by the time I arrive in the middle of the school year. I get very stressed out about my grades dropping while continuing to work on the side. Not many individuals understand my lifestyle, but I must do what is needed in order to provide for my family.
When asked about my dreams four years ago, I said I didn’t have any dreams. Today I’m proud to say that I do have dreams. My migrant counselor has helped me greatly to get ahead in school with the help of the migrant program at United Independent School District. As migrant students, we get support from everyone in the district and it drives me to succeed in life. My dream is to break my family’s cycle of poverty and working in the fields. I want to go to a university and be a role model to my brother and sisters; to show my siblings that if I’m able to succeed and achieve my dreams, they can as well.
Lizeth Caballero, 13
1st place – Essay Contest Winner Ages 10-13
Farm working, field work, agricultural people – what is the first idea that comes to you when hearing these words? When these words come to me, I think: ”farmworking” is a place where crops are being grown and people are under the scorching sun, picking crops. “Field work” is my idea of getting up every morning, working in faraway fields. “Agricultural people” comes to me as Hispanic people, undocumented workers, humans who desire a better future for their future generations. All these farming words, ideas, and expressions are my family.
To start off, my parents work in the fields dealing with the grapes. They set up, plant, pick, and pack grapes. A typical work day for these farm workers is hard. It’s getting up in the early morning; for example, my mother gets up at 4:00 a.m. to make lunch and prepare for the busy day. They drive about 45 minutes to an hour to reach their destination. From getting to work, to working in the extreme heat where there’s hardly shade. After, they travel in their own transportation or carpool home. Exhausted, their duty is to come home and attend the family.
Not only do parents go through this difficult work, but their children go through lots of challenges. Younger children with farm working parents stay alone, when the parent or parents leave to work. Others have to wake up to be babysat in another home. My experience with this has not been easy. I had to wake up at 4:30 a.m., prepare all my belongings I’d need for that day. My parents would take us to the babysitter.
My future dreams are to live a successful life. I want to become a Gynecologist, Architectural Engineer, or FBI agent. I will reach these goals by achieving positive grades. I will study at one of the best universities. I know I will achieve these goals.
Farm workers are suffering every single day! Thanks to them, we have fruit on our tables and can transport fruits all over the world. This helps the economic needs and helps sustain life. I have had a difficult experience with being a child of a farm worker, but I always remember my parents, and all other farm workers just want the best for their kids and future family. Thank you farm workers! Without you our future would not be preserved.
Our thanks to AFOP for allowing us to publish the first prize art and essay winners. If you want to read more, we encourage you to check out their website, which has the rest of the winners and more information on the work they do.