Source: New American Media
As families celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas, farmworkers across the country who help harvest the food that was prepared this holiday season continue to struggle under bitter working and living conditions. Jose Lopez comes from the Mixteco town of Jicayan de Tovar in Guerrero. He’s worked in the fields for 10 years, but makes so little that he has to borrow money to pay his bills, and has almost none left over to send to his family in Mexico. He told his story to New American Media associate editor David Bacon.
I’ve worked in the fields here for 10 years, always in Fresno. I come from Jicayan de Tovar in Guerrero, where we speak Mixteco and Spanish. There are a lot of people from my town working here in Fresno. Every year I pick eggplant, grapes, peaches and nectarines, and also grape leaves. I work pruning during part of the year as well. I get seven to eight months of work each year. Right now the pay is eight dollars an hour. Sometimes I get paid by the hour, and sometimes I work by the piece rate, but it comes out to about the same thing.
Picking grapes for raisins is the hardest job. It’s a lot of work and in hot conditions. Sometimes we work up to 11 or 12 hours a day, but they never pay us overtime pay. I get extremely tired after a day’s work, especially because of the heat. On this job, the pay is 25 cents per tabla [a bucket of grapes spread out over a piece of paper in the row between the vines]. I make approximately $300 a week on this job. Considering the long hours and the extreme heat, it is not a fair wage. It’s not enough.
With this pay, I have to support three children, my wife and myself. My wife doesn’t work, because she has to take care of the children. Sometimes that $300 isn’t enough. I have to buy food and other things the children need and want, and it doesn’t cover all of it. If there is a lot of work I can save enough money while I’m working to last through the months when I don’t work. When I can’t find work, we use our savings. Then, when the money runs out, I have to ask for a loan and pay it back when I’m working again.
My oldest child is seven years old, the second is six and the youngest is six months. So two are in school, and for them I have to purchase school clothing and supplies. There are times when I don’t have enough money for that either. I have to ask for a loan and buy them what they need. There are times when I don’t have enough money for food, and I ask for a loan then also. If it wasn’t for that loan, I would not have a way to buy the family’s items.