Faces of Farmwork: 2012 Documentary Work

Cruzando Caminos | Crossing Paths
Documentary work by SAF interns and edited by Sarah Garrahan

These are the stories of past and present African American and Latino farmworkers struggling to create a livelihood in the face of some of the most challenging working conditions in the United States.

In Motion, Moving, Working
Justin Lyons and Pedro Zamoza

Pablo Caballero began coming to South Carolina in his early teens as a farmworker, picking various crops. Eventually, he was offered a position with the company as a maintenance worker, where he would be in charge of irrigation. He’s been doing this job for about ten years now, and was recently selected to participate on the Board of Directors of the community health centers in Beaufort, as the first farmworker representative of the Latino community. He discusses the benefits to the job promotion, such as improved housing and pay, as well as the disadvantages, such as office work, longer hours, and not as much interaction with other farmworkers. He managed to bring his whole family over from Mexico, and now they all attend the public schools in the area. He’s managed to keep them from having to work in the fields themselves and to be able to focus on their studies.

"I felt free... I FEEL free in the field. I… talked, I yelled loudly, I sang. I enjoyed my work and now, well, it’s the same. I work alone and I'm in the field and I do the same thing. I can yell, I can sing, I can do whatever strikes me. And this, this makes me feel happier. I feel more free, more, uh, more comfortable doing work in the field."

For Personal Growth, There are No Borders, Only Dedication 
Adriana Cuchillo and Bernardo Lopez

Pedro, a farmworker from a small town in Chiapas, México immigrated to the United States at 17-years old. It’s been five years since he saw his parents and siblings. Despite feeling overcome with nostalgia, being far away is his sacrifice for their well-being.

He now lives in North Carolina where he earns a living working from sunrise to sunset harvesting cucumbers, strawberries, berries, corn, apples and tomatoes. Pedro, with his hunger for personal growth and dedication for having a better future, has achieved a goal that was not easy to acomplish. After working and doing chores, he spent the little free time he had studying to get his GED (General Educational Development). It’s an important achievement because in his country he didn’t have the resources to continue studying. His plans for the future include learning English and going to community college, or returning to Mexico and getting a college degree.  

“As a person you can do many things, when you set your mind on something, you can achieve many things”.

With These Hands, Up Come the Harvest: Portrait of an African-American Share-Cropping Family in North Carolina
Dashiell Huebner

Janet, and her son, Keith, brush off the cobwebs of a time residing in memory. Now a great-grandmother, Janet revisits that very day, some 40 years ago, when she refused to endure working through another tobacco harvest. She followed a long line of tradition working in the barn and stringing tobacco while her husband tended the land loaned to them by “the boss man.”  Thus, after generations of sustaining economic survival through sharecropping in North Carolina, the Parkers packed up the car in search of a new beginning. In growing up on a farm, Keith, now 52 years old, and his siblings quickly became accustomed to a community of helping hands, all working together to secure the next harvest. Years prior to leaving sharecropping, this mosaic also included a rich heritage of sharing food, labor, and good times. These days, although Keith and Janet no longer live as sharecroppers, they continue to find it difficult to escape farm work, as the upcoming tobacco harvest repeatedly presents them with an opportunity to secure day work.

“Everybody well. So don’t never be hungry. Don’t most time have what you want, but what you make out with. So I’m just happy, just happy to be livin’.”

“If mama and them are pullin’ tobacco, the community will help. It’s just anything. Any little thing that somebody need doin’ and they knew each other so good they would help each other out. It don’t matter what it is. It was just that simple. If you ain’t got no money now, you don’t get no help. It wasn’t like that back then. Friends were everything. Back then friends were better than money.”










The Motive to Work
Emily Williams

Noe Ordaz Enriquez is a twenty-year-old from Queretaro, Mexico who is very close to his mother.  Even though the rest of his family is not as close, and they were all rocked by the death of his father when Noe was a child, Noe still thinks that family is an important part of life.  He dreams of pursuing his education, which is a daunting task since primary school is as far as he was able to go before starting to work.  Noe confides that he thinks he will be stuck in manual labor for the rest of his life.  While there is nothing bad about working with one’s hands and being physical in your work, there is something wrong with the lack of choice given to Noe in this life.  Noe encourages me constantly to go back and become an attorney to give a voice to him and people in his situation.  It is amazing to think Noe is only twenty years old and has already lived so much of his life as a worry-burdened adult.  Noe’s story is one of struggle, but also one that glimmers with the hope of a kind and noble soul. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” is probably one of the most ridiculous phrases ever because you can only do that if you have the “bootstraps” (symbolically your resources) in the first place.  It is a lot easier to finish middle and high school if you are living in an environment where day-to-day survival is not a priority over your education, because your survival is already ensured. 

“Well, the greatest obstacle is that you do not know people. And, well, you come and you don’t have money. It feels bad right? You don’t have money. I came (here) and there was no work; I spent a month without work, well, I ate little, I didn’t have a way of eating, right? And well, this was the obstacle, right? Because, well, then I started to work and now working you are not without money, you have a way of eating.”

“Lately my mom, right? She’s what I have, right? She’s what inspires me to keep going. Well, I don’t feel old; I’m young, right? And that is what inspires me to keep going.” 









It’s for my Family, It’s for Them
Hallie Dowling-Huppert

Felipe, Felix, Juan, and Cesar are four of the almost 100 farmworker men I talked to this summer and the only who agreed to be interviewed. Many workers I talked to replied, “I’m just a worker. I’m not famous, I’m just here to make money and support my family,” to which I responded, “that’s why I want to interview you.” They still said no. Regardless of this, throughout my conversations with workers I found out where their commitments lay, with their families.  The four men I talked with all expressed how deeply they cared for their families and how dedicated they were to keeping their families in good housing and properly taken care of.  When they spoke of their families you could tell that no amount of hard work, endless hours, or terrible housing could tear them away from that ultimate goal.  So it became my goal as an outreach worker to stand in solidarity with their commitments to their families and stand with them in whatever they were looking to achieve.  It is not our job to tell farmworkers to abandon these commitments in exchange for better conditions, our job is to stand with them in whatever they need and understand that ties to family and to home are the strongest that exist.

“Well I’m here for my family, to help them so we are better off, to have a better life, also I’m the father of the family and because of this I’m here doing this work, for them, for my family.”

If you want it you can achieve it, but you have to fight for it
Fredy Olmos and Atlee Webber

Juan Vasquez Moreno comes from Irapuato in the state of Guanajuato, a place known for its beautiful avenues, museums, and historic churches. A father of three girls, Juan worked in construction and masonry before coming to the United States to work. When the construction industry started lagging, he switched to agriculture and started selling produce, but it didn’t seem to be enough. Although many friends invited him to join them and enter the U.S. illegally, in his heart he believed it was not the right thing to do, and remained hopeful that one day he could come legally to the United States. He decided to apply for an H-2A Visa, which was finally granted in 2003. He already knew how to till the land, thanks to his grandparents, who introduced him to agriculture early in life. Still, when he came to the United States, he had to learn how to handle new kinds of produce and how the industry here works. For the past nine years, he has worked under both H-2A and H-2B Visas, doing landscaping in New York, carpentry in Illinois, and now peach-picking in South Carolina. Although he acknowledges that the intense heat and long hours are rough, he and his compañeros [colleagues] pass the time in the fields by singing, telling jokes, and talking about other places they’ve worked in the United States. Ultimately, valió la pena Juan says, explaining that it has all been worth it. He has been able to build his family a new life in Mexico.

“Those who first taught me to work the land were my grandparents… after I finished studying [in high school] my grandfather took me to the country. He took me to cultivate corn, strawberries, jitomates [tomatoes]… It’s practically the first time that I’ve had to pick peaches. In fact, I didn’t know anything [before coming here]. My friend supported me; it was him who was telling me how to cut them, whether they were already red or a little red, but it was him who oriented me. And after one try, I got it, and now it’s like playing a game…”

“The truth is that I didn’t like the fields here [at first]… it’s very hard, the heat above all is so strong; you have to put up with very high temperatures… but I started to like it… We sing Mexican songs, and it’s contagious. We infect another worker and he’ll start singing as well. We tell stories… about what has happened to us in other states where we weren’t together. And the time passes. Also… we tell jokes, play pranks; all of this we do so that time will pass.”









The Fields Within the Field
Jessica Yon and Carolina Gonzalez

This documentary interview was conducted in the summer of 2012 with Delfina Campos, a migrant farmworker. When asked what motivated her, Delfina stated that she sought to provide more opportunities for her children. Delfina, born in Guanajuato, Mexico, traveled to the United States about nine years ago, seeking work in order to pay for her daughter’s medical bills. From that point, she and her husband became workers in the Southeast migrant stream, picking tomatoes from Florida to Virginia. She hasn’t returned to Mexico since her first time across the US/Mexican border, a journey which she wouldn’t recommend her family in Mexico to take. She spoke of the hardships that migrant farmworkers face, especially the struggles of the children who live on the camp. Even after having been in two bus accidents and undergoing a back injury, Delfina is a dedicated mother and worker who continues to persevere and give what she has to better those she loves, most especially her children.

“I feel like we do the hardest work… We’re always working in the water, mud or rain or whatever and the ones in charge don’t. It’s more difficult but, oh well, here we are.”

“The happiest part of my day is coming home. You give thanks to God when you get back from work and see that your children are well. Well, I feel very happy to see them. The saddest thing also is when I leave. Because you go on your way and you never know if you will come back. This has always been the saddest for me because I leave my children at four or five in the morning, sleeping."

Planting Seeds and Harvesting Hope
Griselda Aguilar and Emily Dixon          

Alicia is a farmworker who lives and works in NC.  She is a single mother of four, and works on a farm that grows organic produce.  She is a community leader, and is actively involved in the Farmworker Advisory Board. Although Alicia had never done farm work before coming to the United States, she learned everything in the field from her boss, and now loves sowing seeds, caring for plants, and harvesting them to be sent to market.  She works to support her kids so that they may study and get ahead in life.  Alicia hopes to one day get papers so that she can return to Mexico and start her own farm, and teach others the joys of farming.

“My favorite part of my work is when we harvest vegetables and plant vegetables, that is what I like to do.  And although it can be very hot, one gets used to everything here.”

“That is what motivated me to come here, my kids.  My reason was to help my kids get ahead, and now my motive is to return to Mexico… But like I told you all, we do not have papers and that is the most difficult to be able to go back again without papers.' 

Mature and Upright, Like a Tree
Shaoli Chaudhuri and Cesar Ramirez

Anselmo hails from Durango, Mexico and has been working in el campo [the fields] most of his life--from tending to his family's cattle in Mexico as a boy, to his time as an H-2A worker in Pinnacle, NC. Since 1994, he has traveled to and from North Carolina to work in the tobacco fields, adding up to over 17 seasons. Anselmo knows the work like the back of his hand, knows the exact dates they normally begin harvesting tobacco, knows the tools used. He acknowledges that the farm work here is certainly harder than back in Mexico, but it also becomes clear that there's not much he would rather be doing. In spite of the expertise his years in the tobacco fields has afforded him, Anselmo has had to make sacrifices in coming here for so many seasons. As he refers to “what one loses” by coming to the U.S., it’s had an impact on his family and  his relationship with his youngest son.

Gradually, some of his relatives have trickled over to this side of the border and now live and work with Anselmo; namely, two of his sons--Anselmo Jr. and Chuy--a nephew, and a daughter-in-law's brother. What is inspiring about Anselmo's experiences as a farmworker is that in spite of the hardships, each aspect of his surroundings—from the trees, to his vegetable garden, to the land—tells a story, all of which come together to make up his own.

“What I like about the work…well everything. Yes! What we want here is work. When one goes out to work one is more at ease….When there’s no work, we’re here just watching TV, one person gets bored, one goes here and there. And at work, a little work, well, one relaxes much more still.”

“I’m speaking of the years I’ve been here, thank God [for those years], but in one way of thinking…one loses a lot here in that I’m not with my family. I’ve lost many years and I leave my people alone over there...It feels horrible. The youngest of my sons is 17 and that’s when I began to come here and go back, and my youngest son would look at me like I was a stranger. It’s obvious and it’s what one reflects on, that’s what one loses. His mom would say “This is your dad,” but at the time he stepped back and that’s what one loses….”

Voices of Silence
Lucero Galván and Guillermo Alvarado

Don Miguel, a field worker in Mexico, came to the United States to do the same work but differently. In Mexico, the weather isn’t always favorable. The drought has the ability to kill the cattle and the harvest. Here, Don Miguel’s day starts around 7:30 a.m. and goes until 6 p.m., or depending on how much or less work needs to be done. He gets paid $0.75 for one morral, which can take him just a few minutes to pick. He states that it’s all about efficiency and how good you are at your job. His pride is behind everything he does in the field because he knows he’s providing food for families in South Carolina and nearby states. Nonetheless, his pride is sometimes overshadowed by the heat and exhaustion that is caused by working in extreme heat and humidity—“es intolerable” (“it’s intolerable”). His drive: his family in Mexico and knowing that the American dollar is worth much more in Mexico than the peso and that through that he is able to provide food, shelter, and hope of a further education. His own childhood experiences have taught him that “when hungry, things don’t reach the brain.” He strives to do the best in everything, even in the peach fields.

“The difference is that here you work more. Because over there it’s different. Because if you’re doing your own thing, you get tired and you sit down over there in the shade, nobody is pressuring you. You do what you can do and that’s it. If you get tired, you rest a little bit and that’s it. You continue for a little while. Not here, you have… you’re more pressured. There are schedules to arrive and leave. And, yes, you’re more pressured here to work. Right now we start at 7:30 and we leave at six in the evening.”

“Yes, that’s true. The boss doesn’t care how people live, and the crewleader even less. You live… well, the heat is horrible. Well, yes, there should be more awareness about that, right. It’s true what they say, the boss lives comfortably over here with his air conditioning and he doesn’t care what the workers go through, right. He’s only interested in money.”

Arms Unfolded
Whitley Raney

Candelaria identifies herself in many ways. She is a mother to a teenage boy of whom she is quite proud, but whom she will never quite understand. She is a wife to a husband who has been her constant support. She is a neighbor to everyone, fulfilling the role of hairdresser, counselor, fruit and vegetable vendor, and event planner. She is a Catholic whose faith motivates her to reach out to others and help everyone find the connections and resources that they need. She is more than anything a community leader. She works full time at the tomato packing plant, but what she thinks of as her work takes place not within the walls of Wright Brothers Tomato, but within her own trailer. She takes great pride in her work as a hairdresser for whoever needs it, jumping from coloring the hair of her elderly friend to fixing a self-haircut that a six-year-old neighbor gave herself the night before. In between those surprise visits, people drop by to buy the fruits and vegetables that she brings home and sells out of her kitchen. Others come in and out to check on the baptismal or wedding crafts that she’s made to celebrate a family’s big day. She is constantly working, constantly busy, and the model for the women of her community. She doesn’t only work to give a better life to her own family, but to improve the lives of those around her in whatever way she is able.

“Well, I’ll tell you the truth. I never sit back with my arms crossed… In my country I graduated as a stylist… So when I got here, I saw that there was a lack of a place for Hispanic people to go to get their haircut, because at that time there wasn’t anywhere to go. To neighbors, my husband said, “my wife cuts hair, if you want she can cut yours,” and he asked me if I wanted to cut their hair for them…  And from there I started to cut hair for the neighbors and friends. I didn’t charge them because it was like a favor that we did one for another. And then as time passed they told me, “no, you cut our hair every time we need it, we’re going to give you something, be it five dollars for your time.” But it’s what I do for them as my hobby because I like it. I cut hair, do hairstyles for brides when they get married, for quinceañeras when a girl turns 15. I do a lot of things.”