The day begins at 5:30 a.m. with my mother waking me up. She has been up for an hour already. She has been cooking our breakfast and lunch and making a fresh stack of tortillas for the day. I wake up groggy, grumpy and tired. I am 14 years old and it is April 17, a Tuesday, and school is not on my to-do list for the day. I slowly rise from the creaky bed and glance at my still sleeping sister. She is five years old. She will be going to a Migrant Daycare that is located inside our campo. I go to the bathroom and start getting ready for work.
I put on some old jeans, a man’s long sleeve checkered shirt that we found at a second hand store a few days ago and my hair goes into a pony tail. After this I grab a bandana and put it on over my hair, I make sure it is secure with bobby pins. At last I walk to the door to get my shoes. My shoes are caked in somewhat dried mud from the day before. I walk outside into the emerging dawn and start to smack my shoes together to release some mud clumps from them. My mother has already woken up my sister and packed our lunch. She looks pretty much the same as me with worn out jeans, a checkered shirt and a bandana on her head. We head out to our old truck and off we go. We stop shortly at the daycare where my mom gets off with my still sleepy sister and I try not to think of the day we have ahead of us. I see other mothers dropping of their children. Some of the children are crying. Some are being carried in by their fathers; my father is not here with us. My mother is a widow. The scene is the same for months to come.
My mother stops once again, this time to pick up her sister, my tia and my cousin. My cousin and I are the same age, we say our good mornings and then lay our heads down on the back seat. Once we are on the road, I try to take a nap. I don’t know how long the drive will be today. Every day might lead us to a different field. I hear talking coming from the front seat. , I try to ignore it. I hope the drive is a long one so that I can catch a couple more minutes of sleep. I am exhausted.
I am not so lucky this time. We arrive at the field and we get off. It is a large sugar beet field and we are going to weed it. The sugar beet plants are tall for our heights. None of us are over 5 feet 2 inches. The plants go up to our thighs. I go through the trouble of putting plastic grocery bags over my socks and then tuck my feet back into my shoes. I hate getting my feet wet all day. Over my pants go some black garbage bags, taped to my ankles and my thighs. It is still early in the morning and the field is covered with dew. The hoes are out and being sharpened by our mothers. My cousin and I look for our brown cotton gloves in the trunk and our cassette Walkmans. And we are off to work for the day.
The fields stretch out before us. Row and rows of vegetation. We can see the weeds poking out here and there but it is not until we get up close can we see that there are more weeds than those poking out above the sugar beet plants. As we enter the field, we can feel the crisp, cold dew on our hips, seeping in through our clothes. Our jeans absorb more and more dew as we keep trekking through the field. Soon we are wet all the way up to right under our bras. It is a disgusting feeling but we know as the day wears on our clothes will eventually dry.
The work is not hard per say. We simply walk through the rows of sugar beets and hack off any weeds that we encounter. But it is exhausting work when the area your feet have to walk in measures roughly three to four inches and is sometimes muddy either from irrigation or a previous thunderstorm. We walk along in pairs. Our mothers ahead of us, each on their respective rows. My cousin and I walk and talk or we listen to our radios. Sometimes we have heated discussions about unimportant topics. But always in the back our of minds are the what-ifs, our daydreams, our secret crushes from back home.
Then, 9:30 a.m. comes around. It is time for a breakfast break. My cousin and I each grab our own cardboard box out of the trunk to see what each of other mothers have packed for us today. My mother has made us some chorizon con huevo con chile. I have my own tacos packed in foil paper. In another piece of foil paper are fried, folded corn tortillas, my mother does not like flour tortillas. She has packed some of the chorizo inside an old thermos. We also have a cooler with a few sodas and pieces of fruit. My tia has made herself some hot dogs mexicanos, basically wieners wrapped in some fried corn tortillas. On the side she has a few Serrano peppers which she likes to take a bite of at intervals while she is eating her “hot dog mexicano.” My cousin is happily munching away on one of these and some Flaming Hots Cheetos as well.
Soon our 15 minutes are over and we are back to work. Before we pick up our hoes and put on our gloves we need to go to the restroom. There are no restrooms here, not even a porta-potty. We grab some toilet paper from the trunk and we go into the corn field that is next to us. We squat to do our business and come back out. Next. The sun has started to beat down on us so we go to the trunk once again, this time to put on some hats. The nicest part of the day is over.
We resume our work, my cousin and I can hear our mothers chatting away in the distance. Every once in a while they turn back to us and catch us just standing there in the middle of the field, talking. They yell at us to get back to work! We smile and keep on working. Hours pass by and it is now time for lunch. We resume our places seated on the dirt road next to our cars. It is noon and there is only a scrap of shade for us. The tacos that were left over from breakfast are now my lunch. They are now only tepid but they still taste sinfully delicious. There is nothing like a good homemade taco. We eat and talk and again use our “restroom.” We are done with a quarter of the field so we decide to move our car a bit more on the dirt road before we head back out to the field.
This time we listen to our radios. We carry water bottles with us, it is hot and we are sweating dreadfully. The sun is beating down on our backs and we get a bit sunburned despite wearing large brimmed hats and our long sleeved shirts. Our jeans are drying up to a nice hard texture. Our shoes are now caked with hardened mud which makes it a bit more difficult for us to walk. Every once in a while we will tap our shoes with our hoes to make the mud fall off but it always finds its way back on to our shoes and the bottoms of our jeans. Out here there is no need for makeup, or fancy hairdos. Being a teenage girl, this is hard to cope with. We want to wear pretty clothes, nice shoes and experiment with make-up and hair dos. But the fields don’t care what you wear or what you look like.
The sun is starting to dwindle. The mosquitos come out to play. Time for the “masks” and the bug spray. I stand in position while my mother doses me with bug spray. I put a another bandana on my neck to protect it from the mosquitoes and then a third one over my face. I look like a poor bank robber with only my eyes peering out. We are now four females, who look like short, bank robbing men with hoes and very dirty jeans. My hands have a dull ache to them from being in the same grasping position all day long. My back feels the spiteful sting of both mosquitos and a hard day’s work. My legs are tired from trying to walk in the 3 ½ inch tiny ditches all day with extra muddy weight on my shoes. My battery is running super low on my Walkman until it finally dies out. And yet still we trudge on.
It is nearing 6 p.m. when we finally put our hoes, gloves and hats back into the trunk. We pile into the car and start the drive back to the camp. We stop by to pick up my sister who seems very tired. Her tear streaked face tells us she has had a bad day. We turn around and drive to the grocery store. We get off in our muddy jeans and long sleeved shirts to get a few items for dinner before we finally drive home. The looks and stares of the pale faced people are sometimes disturbing to us but we tend to ignore them because we know we have just earned an honest day’s work.
At home, we leave our shoes at the door for the next day. We take turns taking showers while our mother cooks us dinner. We sit down to eat and later my cousin walks over to our house. We lay down on the floor because we have no furniture to watch some movies with us on our TV and VCR. My mother lays down on the bed freshly showered and starts reading a magazine. We only have one TV and it is in her room. She shushes us several times before she can get into her story. Later that evening, she ushers us to the car and we drive to the nearest convenience store. She calls her parents in Texas to check in on them and to say hi. She puts each of us on the phone for a few precious moments. And then we are back to our two bedroom apartment.
The space is completely white and has been repainted so many times over the years that it has a slight texture to the concrete walls. It has no doors except one for the bathroom. Our kitchen boasts a handmade wooden table with matching wooden benches. Our bedroom has two twin beds; my mother’s has a full size bed. Our beds consist of uncomfortable coil mattresses on steel frames. The closets are open and have one shelf above the clothes rack. There is no living room. This is our furnished apartment of which there are many in this Migrant Camp varying of course in nothing. And then it’s off to bed. My sister and I retreat to our bedroom and lay down. We talk to each other about what we miss back in our own home in Texas. We each have a nice twin bed with comfortable mattresses. We have a beautiful living room with a large television set and nice comfortable dining set. Our Mother has a nice queen size bed and all the rooms have doors for privacy. Our home has central air and beautiful trees with grass and a large patio with swings for us to play with. My sister does not know why it is that we have to leave it for six months out of the year for this dreadfully bare apartment but I am at the age where I understand. And that is a day in the life of a teenage migrant worker.