Santiago Nuñez was born in Guatemala in 1961. At the age of 11 he began working in the fields cultivating corn, a crop that is essential to life in rural Guatemala, but he didn’t make a life out of farming. Instead, he was apprenticed to a tailor and learned to make clothing. He made mainly women’s clothing, and enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with the latest trends and selling his product to retailers. His business grew, and he even hired a few employees to work for him. Unfortunately, his success did not last. The product didn’t sell anymore, and he ran up debt, forcing him to leave his business. In 2002 he came to the United States in search of work and for the last eight years he has lived in NC, working at a poultry processing plant.
Santiago Nuñez nació en Guatemala en 1961. A los 11 años de edad comenzó a trabajar en el campo sembrando maíz, un cultivo esencial en las zonas rurales de Guatemala, aunque no se dedicó a la agricultura. En vez, aprendió a confeccionar ropa como aprendiz de sastre. Principalmente hacía ropa de mujer para tiendas y le gustaba tratar de estar al tanto de la moda. Su negocio creció y hasta contrató a varios empleados. Desafortunadamente, no siguió teniendo éxito. El producto ya no se vendía y se endeudó, lo cual lo forzó a dejar su negocio. En 2002, vino a los Estados Unidos en búsqueda de trabajo y durante los últimos ocho años ha vivido en Carolina del Norte trabajando en una procesadora de aves.
by Charles Webster
Joaquín Vázquez González is a migrant farm worker in Newland, North Carolina. For nine months out of the year Joaquín works in the Christmas tree fields of Avery County. He is originally from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and he lives there the remaining three months of the year. He is a short man, with long black hair that is complimented by his black mustache and beard. His face and body at first glance look beleaguered; Joaquín’s body has weathered countless diseases, and injuries throughout the years. Despite, this Joaquín continues to work six days a week, at two jobs, sometimes more.
Joaquín Vázquez González es un trabajador agrícola migrante que vive en Newland, Carolina del Norte. Durante nueve meses del año, Joaquín trabaja en las plantaciones de árboles de Navidad en el condado de Avery. Es originario de San Luis Potosí, México, y vive allá durante los otros tres meses del año. Es de estatura baja con cabello negro largo y bigote y barba negra. A primera vista, su cara y cuerpo se ven agobiados; el cuerpo de Joaquín ha sido achacado por un sinfín de enfermedades y lesiones a lo largo de los años. A pesar de esto, Joaquín sigue teniendo dos trabajos y su semana laboral es de seis días, a veces más.
By Dida El-Sourady and Elizabeth Moore
Misael, Antonio, and Ismael work in Fuquay-Varina, NC on a tobacco farm. Misael is outgoing and enjoys reading poetry and listening to music when he is not working in the fields. If he were able to chose his ideal job he would want to be a teacher or an archaeologist. Antonio is a bit more reserved, but he isn’t afraid of speaking about his love for the United States – the country that has offered him so many opportunities. Unlike many workers, Antonio would like to live in the United States permanently and he says that he has never encountered an unfriendly American. Ismael, Misael’s cousin, has only been working in the fields for a year and says that this experience has allowed him to grow as an individual. One of his main motivations is his mother; he explains that while he is working in the fields, she is always on his mind. Although these three men work together, they each represent different hopes, dreams and inspirations of migrant farmworkers.
Misael, Antonio e Ismael trabajan en Fuquay-Varina, Carolina del Norte en una plantación de tabaco. Misael es sociable y le encanta leer poesía y escuchar música cuando no esta trabajando en el campo. Si el podría elegir su trabajo ideal le gustaría ser un maestro o un arqueólogo. Antonio es poco reservado, pero el no tiene miedo de hablar sobre su amor para los Estados unidos – el país que le ha ofrecido muchas oportunidades. Distinto a los otros trabajadores agrícolas, Antonio quisiera vivir en los Estado Unidos para siempre y dice que el nunca ha conocido a un estadounidense hostil. Ismael, el primo de Misael, solamente ha trabajado en el campo por un año y dice que esta experiencia le ha dado la oportunidad de crecer como una persona. Una de sus motivaciones es su madre; el explica que mientras el trabaja en el campo, ella siempre esta en su mente. Aunque estos tres hombres trabajan juntos, cada uno de ellos representa diferentes esperanzas, sueños e inspiraciones de los trabajadores agrícolas migrantes.
English Translation of Alberto’s Story
From his alligator boots, belt buckle and Tejana hat, it’s clear that Alberto loves the countryside and livestock. He identifies with the land and life as a cowboy. As a child in Veracruz, Mexico, Alberto was happiest while caring for the animals.
Well, since I was 8 years old, I started working in the fields. Yeah, I remember that I would go after some of the cows to take them to the field and that I would let them roam around and that I would look for them in the bushes that they would hide in. And I would look for them and by the time I went back to my house, they were already there and that’s the memory I have of the cows, very pretty.
One day, Alberto traveled to Tijuana in search of work so that he could bring greater stability to his family. While at work he met a very beautiful woman there. She became the mother of his two children. In little time, Alberto lost his job and went to the United States to try out his luck. He walked 18 hours to cross the desert to the other side of the border.
Well my mind that stayed there in the truck, it was like 10 people in the back of the truck that was taking us, laying down and in those curves, hearing how the tire was squeaking that wouldn’t turn and never to see my family again. And it’s very good luck, if you’re able to cross and for a lot of people, bad luck for each one of them on their way, never to see their family again. That’s what’s most sad about it that you see, that you see and that you take in personally in life.
Once in the United States Alberto settled in South Carolina, living in a farmworker camp and toiling in the fields; picking cucumbers, peaches, pumpkin and watermelon. Today Alberto is unemployed due to serious injuries he incurred in the fields. A long legal battle for reparations from damages caused has made his old home in Mexico seem all the more distant.
Well, it’s very sad how one feels here, being alone, without any family. When you’re eating and you’re eating at the dinner table without any of your family, you always think about your family and miss them. Because here we’re put to a corner, we’re like intruding, places here… that’s how we see ourselves, with the other farmworker’s moms. And well it’s never the same as it is in Mexico. I’m very alone right now without any family. It’s not the same being here without them. We’re here to have a better life than in Mexico. And you risk a lot crossing the border. Everything that you suffer just to have a better life, to suffer, here for some time and then well, in the future go back, with God’s will. And I plan on starting a business, a taco stand to survive there because well, the money we make here, you go some place and it’s just spend, spend, spend. And in the end you’re in the same situation without money that you were in before and it’s not the same now going back and not have any money, that’s what they call me for.
By Adriana Sanchez
The dreams of higher education and equality for three undocumented students in California.
by Laura Valencia
A short video documentary of migrant laborers in the fields of North Carolina.
Un corto vídeo documental de trabajadores agrícolas en los campos de Carolina del Norte.
by Kyle Warren
Luis in Arkansas, Sweet Potato
“We don’t have anywhere else to go. You just have to make the best of a rough situation. It truly is the closest thing we can call home.”
Luis was living in the storage facility where his company would store the old sweet potatoes from last year’s harvest that were due to be cleaned out. His bed was about halfway down the one large “bedroom” where he slept with about 30 other workers. The grower’s crew leaders often got to use the old offices of the warehouse as their bedrooms located at the front of the storage facility. The rank smell of molding sweet potatoes lingered in the air as they rotted in their crates feet away from where Luis slept at night. He told us you just get used to the smell. What he never got used to were the occasional threats he might find lurking around his so called home. Many predators like snakes, scorpions, and spiders lived in the crates that were stored in the middle of the warehouse and they would often come out at night and make their way to where Luis and his coworkers slept. As of yet, Luis hadn’t been bitten or stung nor did he know anyone who was, but he was waiting for the day when someone would eventually get hurt.
We couldn’t help but wonder how they got by living in the warehouse where basic amenities seemed scarce. He showed us the break room turned kitchen. They were happy to have two stoves, only one of which worked, and two refrigerators. What he was concerned about though was the bathroom. As he led us to the back of the warehouse, the musky smell of rotting produce clashed with the pungent odor of raw sewage. We came upon the showering facilities where he and his other 30 workers would line up just to bathe. There was nothing more than a spigot poking out of the wall with a tarp fashioned around it to act as a shower curtain. On the other side, we saw raw sewage seeping up from the ground inches away from where they bathed. Luis told us it was difficult, but they didn’t think they had anywhere else to go and patrón [boss] Jack has tried to “do good by them.” They would make do so long as they were provided with steady work and an honest paycheck.
by D.L. Anderson, April Leanne Simon, Dayana Diaz and Jennifer Gonzalez.
A view of life for a migrant family living in limbo to work the tobacco fields of North Carolina so they can raise six children up right in the very place where they were born. Told through the words of the matriarch, Isabel, and daughter, Yesenia, this short photo documentary explores the ties that bind a family to a place even at the risk of being torn apart.
Una visión de la vida de una familia de trabajadores itinerantes viviendo a la espera de trabajo en los campos de tabaco en Carolina del Norte, para poder criar a sus seis hijos debidamente en el lugar donde nacieron. Relatada por la matriarca, Isabel, y su hija, Yesenia, este corto documental fotográfico explora los lazos que ligan a la familia a un lugar, a pesar de correr el riesgo de ser separados.