CAMP students tell their stories

Left to right: Kevin Hernandez, Cristal Reza, Dulce Lopez, Miriam Rojas, Maria Bernabe, Jonathan Miramontes, 
Jesus Perez, Kimmy Santillan.

Left to right: Kevin Hernandez, Cristal Reza, Dulce Lopez, Miriam Rojas, Maria Bernabe, Jonathan Miramontes, Jesus Perez, Kimmy Santillan.

Staff

Although most people take it for granted, the fruit and vegetables that show up in grocery stores are picked by the 2.5 million agricultural workers in the United States.

According to the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, the average number of agricultural workers in Idaho hovers around 57,000. Of those, roughly 18,000 are migrant and seasonal farmworkers, which means that they were employed in temporary status and had to travel to find work.

National Farmworkers Awareness Week this year was between March 26-April 2, and LC State observed the week by holding a panel discussion on Tuesday, March 26, led by students from the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP).

Dulce Lopez, a work scholar and senior majoring in kinesiology, helped to organize the event and explained, “the goal of this event was to discuss our experiences and our parents’ experiences working in the fields. It was also to bring awareness to farmworkers and the things that they go through in their everyday life.”

This topic is close to my heart because my grandparents were migrant farm workers who settled in southern Idaho. My mom was born in Nampa, ID, and grew up working in the fields with her parents near Twin Falls, ID. Today, most of Idaho’s agricultural workers reside in Bingham, Canyon, and Cassia counties.

The panel was organized by Dulce Lopez and Carely Melena, a work scholar and sophomore pursuing paralegal studies from Jerome, ID. Seven students presented their stories to fellow CAMP students by describing the kind of work they did growing up, the toughest parts, what they learned, and what they would tell their family members who are still laboring in the fields.

Presenters included: Miriam Rojas, a freshman from Homedale, ID majoring in social work, Kevin Hernandez, a freshman from Fruitland, ID majoring in welding, Maria Bernabe, a senior from Homedale, ID majoring in social work, Jonathan Miramontes, a criminal justice major from Wilder, ID, Cristal Reza, a junior from Vale, OR majoring in social work, Jesus Perez, a radiology major from Grangeville, ID, and Kimmy Santillan, a senior from Blackfoot, ID majoring in elementary education.

For students working in the fields, a typical day might include getting up before dawn to log a few hours working with a crew—e.g., cleaning onions, detangling corn, planting hops, hoeing beets, picking rocks, or working with dairy cattle—and then heading to school until 3:45 p.m. During planting or harvest seasons, it is common to work until 10 p.m., and then be back at it early the next day.

The temperatures often rise to the triple digits and workers must wear multiple layers of clothing to protect from pesticides, snakes, thorns, sun, and bugs. When the corn is high and the summer wind blows, it feels like you are stepping into an oven.

But once in this oven, workers must bend over, pick up baskets, cut onions, mend fences, move irrigation lines, etc. Inevitably, fingers are cut, knees are scraped, and eyes are filled with dust, sweat, and onion sulfides.

If it is such hard work, why do young people continue to do it? Simple, they step up to work to help their families. Sometimes they work so that a family elder or grandparent does not have to, and other times they work to support younger siblings.

It is not uncommon to hear stories of the oldest sibling dropping out of school to allow younger siblings to continue attending school.

Beyond the long hours and grueling physical labor is the psychological toll that working in the fields can take on students. In the U.S., farm owners are viewed with admiration and honored for growing the food that feeds Americans, but for Latino agricultural workers, this admiration is replaced by stigma.

Sometimes students are made fun of for working in the fields and it can be emotionally taxing attending school with students whose parents own the farms that they work.

On the other hand, working in the fields with close friends and family reinforces community bonds and a sense of togetherness. Working alongside parents also provides children with a deep sense of appreciation and respect for the sacrifices their parents a making.

One of the lessons that students repeated was that working in the fields taught them that they did not want to work in the fields for the rest of their lives. Many students explained that community elders encouraged them to go to school and pursue their dreams.

When students were asked what they would tell their parents and family members, the overwhelming response was “thank you.” Students also displayed an uncommon sense of empathy for the sacrifices their family members have made.

Some explained that the number one thing they wanted their family to know was that they appreciate them. Students on the panel also stated that they wanted their family members to know that they did a good job raising them, that they instilled in them grit, an unyielding work ethic, and the idea that success is simply being able to pursue your dreams.

If you want to learn more about the experiences of agricultural workers in the U.S., you can watch Food Chains on Netflix, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics report (https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/hispanics-and-latinos-in-industries-and-occupations.htm), read about the dangers of pesticide exposure on the Environmental Protection Agency website, read Voices from the fields: Children farmworkers tell their stories by S. Beth Atkin, or follow @flowerinspanish on Instagram.

Additionally, the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs also publishes an annual report detailing economic, education, and demographic changes for the Latino population in Idaho and can be accessed on their website, https://icha.idaho.gov.

Left to right: Kevin Hernandez, Cristal Reza, Dulce Lopez, Miriam Rojas, Maria Bernabe, Jonathan Miramontes, Jesus Perez, Kimmy Santillan.