Undocumented, vulnerable, scared: the women who pick your food for$ 3 an hour

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In the fields of south Texas Mexican women make long hours in dangerous healths under the ever-present threat of deportation

On a rainy, pre-dawn Monday morning in the fields of the Rio Grande Valley along the Mexican border in south Texas, little constellations of flashlights wink across the dark-green plain. They are held by undocumented immigrants, predominantly from Mexico, and principally living in fear of arrest and expulsion but acting all the same to provide for their families. Their thumbs twist the affiliation on knots of parsley or hack stalks of kale until their palms blister. Most of Texas is still asleep.

Many of them are paid on a contract basis, by the box. A carton of cilantro will earn a worker$ 3; suffered farmworkers say they can fill one within an hour, which necessitates a usual 5am to 6pm work day would deserve them $39 total. The handiwork can run from physically unpleasant and everyday( cilantro, loot, beets) to outright unpleasant and dangerous( watermelon, parsley, grapefruit ).

Farmworkers
Farmworkers hand over the collard green knots that they collected in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Photograph: Veronica G Cardenas/ The Guardian

The few women who work in the fields face even more adversities. Specimen of workplace sexual harassment and crime are rampant and are both underreported and under-prosecuted. It is common for women to relent to a supervisor’s improvements because she can’t risk losing her job or eviction. Most of these women are supporting children as well.

In the fields of south Texas, those women represent a diverse cross-section of lives upturned by drug-related and domestic violence in Mexico. Under brand-new US immigration protocols, these are extraordinarily tense periods for immigrants- being caught by officials could intend being was sent out or having your boys placed in a cage. And hitherto the women included in this piece refused to hide their faces or modify their names.

They want their narratives told.

Janet, 36

Janet,
Janet, 36, left, and her father Edith, 55 constitute for a photograph outside Janet’s house. Photograph: Veronica G Cardenas/ The Guardian

” I envisage I wield evenly as fast as the three men ,” Janet Castro says, deflecting over and slicing the beginnings from the greens of the cilantro gather. A 36 -year-old veteran of fieldwork( “shes been” picking make since she was 17 ), Castro is able to hold a conference without stopping the swift movement of her knife. A bandanna plows her snout and mouth to keep the headache-inducing cilantro smell out; otherwise the headache lasts for hours after she’s left the field.

Parsley is worse:” There is a milk in the stems of the parsley that gets on us when we cut it ,” she justifies. As a make, one day in the fields cutting parsley can entail two weeks of itchy, stinging skin that is rough to the touch.” We can’t wear gloves because the boss says a piece of the glove could get into the product ,” she justifies, and long sleeves was able to press the milk into the skin.

‘I’m be applicable to it ,” she shrugs, in her stoic space, as she scratches her scaly arm.

Janet has worked with the same supervisor for nine years. She describes him as a good guy who has even lent her $200 when she requires it. Despite bending over for most of the day, she says she doesn’t suffer the same back pain that other farmworkers do.” I’m really fast at the onion, but there are some men who say I am taking their work. The response I have is that this work is for my boys .”

Janet met her husband the first time she started working in the fields. Back at home, they have three children, each with developmental problems; one, the centre daughter, has autism and needs a part-time caretaker. Her older son has suffered epileptic convulsions since he was a baby, and the youngest is starting to show developmental issues as well. Janet says her doctors feel the resources of her children’s questions are the substances used in the fields, but her undocumented status contributed her to never try legal action. Plus, she didn’t want to lose her job.

Her solace is the Catholic church, and on her one day off- Sunday- she takes her family there. Subsequentlies they rush residence, to avoid any potential run-ins with immigration authorities. She says she has heard rumors of immigration bites at states parties and meets after church, and although she says she does not live in fear, she still says she doesn’t like to go that risk.

She hopes that someday she might be able to call herself an American citizen.” I merely hope there is a way for us to get reports, because some of us are really working here. Others are lazy and stay home, but I’m really working hard ,” she says before putting her youngest to bed, seven hours before she’ll need to arrive at the parsley realm the next morning.

Edith, 55

Edith,
Edith came to the US virtually 20 years ago.’ I came to this country to give my family a better life. Work is very hard, but I don’t mind. We have to work .’ Photograph: Veronica G Cardenas/ The Guardian

Edith is Janet’s mom, though her outspoken manner distinguishes sharply with her daughter’s low-key, reticent demeanor. If Edith comes off as strong-headed, she says that her life has demanded it.

Edith operated as a paramedic in Mexico, but she could scarcely make ends meet.” I lived in total privation in Mexico ,” she says, her seeings soaking.” My home was just a lumber shanty and when it rained we would get wet. I came here because this is a country of possibilities .”

Today she lives with her daughter Janet and her daughter’s house, but years ago their lives were turned upside down, shortly after Edith came across the Rio Grande River in the early 1990 s alone in an inner tube at night.

Four months after Edith arrived and known effort as a housekeeper for a local vocalist, she travelled back to Veracruz, Mexico, to wreak her three teenage children across the border. Janet and her sister, both girls then, found toil as housekeepers as well, but were getting provoked by males as they marched residence from their jobs. One daytime, Janet’s sister countenanced a ride dwelling and disappeared. Her brother, Edith’s son, detected his sister after weeks of searching in an apartment building in another town. It is a fact that she and another girl had been being held there against their will and mistreated. Edith’s son went to the police to report the crime, and Edith says the abductors were jailed for a week, her son was also penalized: he was evicted.” The investigate only told me to call if my daughter got abducted again ,” Edith recollects with disgust,” and that’s when I decided to move towns “.

Starting over, Edith threw herself into work in the fields.” I don’t mind the hard work ,” she says,” I came to this country to fight .” Over her two decades of work in the fields, Edith has earned herself a honour among the men as a tough chingona – a badass wife. Once, while working the watermelon fields where rattlesnakes are notorious, Edith employed her paramedic abilities to save the life of a worker who was bitten by a serpent:” I put my opening to it[ his leg] and sucked out the toxin and spit it out .” Such mettle has turned her into a kind of mentor to other women working in the fields.

Farmworkers
Farmworkers hand over the collard light-green clusters that they reaped in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Photograph: Veronica G Cardenas/ The Guardian

She also informally lawyers other female farmworkers against relenting to the pressure of men soliciting sex in exchange for better working conditions.” I always tell them,’ We have worked hard to be here , now don’t let yourself down .'” She says she still determines young women taken off by the supervisors to angles of the fields, but she has hope:” People know their rights a lot better now than they used to .”

Commonplace labor problems such as intimidation, refusal of collective labour agreements privileges, compensation denying or unpaid overtime work are also enormous overcomes that they have few recourses to fight.

A report by Human Rights Watch notes that although US law entitles undocumented proletarians to workplace defences,” the US government’s interest in protecting illegal craftsmen from corruption conflicts with its interest in deporting them .” That report was written in 2015, but President Trump’s increased drive for deportation and border closure had just been formed things more hopeless for undocumented farmworkers attempting to protect their labor rights.

That’s part of why Edith still considers giving up everything and returning with her family to Mexico.

” When you’re illegal here, it’s like you’re in prison. If you need assistance, there’s nowhere to go .”

Maria Rebecca, 23

María
Maria Rebecca, 23, and her daughter. She was eight when she started facilitating her father picking strawberries in Michoacan. Photograph: Veronica G Cardenas/ The Guardian

Maria Rebecca came to the US when she was pregnant with her second child three years ago, leaving her older son with her mothers back in Michoacan.

” My mom expended her whole life working in the area[ in Mexico ], and the only reason she stopped was because one of the veins in her attention popped while she was working .”

Her sister and her pa are still back in Michoacan working the fields, and it was her other sister who called her to Texas, where she had already moved to.

” My sister knew that I adored working in the area, and she was just telling me I could make a lot more money here .” Back in Mexico she would make about $30 a week. Here, she could become $200 a few weeks- if, that is, she was willing to take on the most dangerous types of work- harvesting in the orchards. She was: farm work is Maria Rebecca’s life.

” I started working in the fields when I was eight years old. I envisioned that the rest of the girls were buying lollipops after institution, but we didn’t have enough fund for me to buy them, so I decided to work .”

She says that while still in elementary school, she quitted attending five days a few weeks so that she could work a few daytimes a few weeks and deserve a little spending money. What deterred her in institution was the free lunch on those dates; at home, snacks were more irregular, she says with a shrug, as she jives on a bench beneath a pecan tree in her sister’s figurehead ground. Her daughter sits softly beside her, wide-eyed with her little hoof just dangling off the bench.

Throughout middle school Maria Rebecca says she continued working in the fields, priding herself on stirring enough fund to buy instant noodles for lunch. By ninth grade, she put out of school completely and turned to farm work full season, but she does not speak about it with much dejection. While some teenagers feel pride by excelling in academy or sports, Maria Rebecca felt dignity in excelling at farm occupation. She recounts her working experiences like a more privileged person might recount their travel undertakings.” I remember cultivating the strawberry fields and having to walk up the two sides of a hill barefoot because it was too muddy to wear boots. The proprietors remained the ocean loping to keep the strawberries fresh, but we would slip and fall all the time ,” she says with a laugh.

Maria,
Maria gleans grapefruits in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Photograph: Veronica G Cardenas/ The Guardian

Despite the harsh work conditions she tolerated in Mexico, she says fieldwork in the US is even more demanding because her compensation is not paid hourly- ie consistent regardless of how hard she works- but preferably by the box.” Here we are paid by weight, so you have to work very fast. Here it is a lot harder .”

The Rio Grande Valley is famous for its wintertime citrus season, when small-town citrus galas feature delicious local oranges and grapefruit. Early one morning during this year’s glean, Maria Rebecca is already up on a ladder, contacting precariously for each fruit, to drop down into her giant canvas bag.

The physicality of orchard work is astonishingly difficult and dangerous. She reclines a ladder slick with dew and rainwater against a tree, where it catches- hopefully tightly- on the branches. Then she makes her practice up the 14 -foot ladder, all the way to the top, to the last rung. Along the behavior, she is stretching to reach grapefruit, and tugging at them to get them to release and sink. Any that ten-strike the soil can’t be used, so she collects them all in a pocket that is slung crossbody and hanging on one side of her hip. The purse weighs anywhere between 60 to 80 lb when full of return. One missed step on the ladder, or a lean too far to the side, and she’ll fall.

That’s already happened to her twice this year. Once, her hoof slipped off the ladder gradation during a rainstorm, yanking her match downwards and sending her to the ground, the handbag platform on top of her. On her route down, she slammed the back of her president against the reces of a tractor trailer. She describes knowing concussion disorders( though she says she has never heard the word “concussion” ). A doctor’s visit was out of the question.” Without papers, I simply try to not induce current problems ,” she illustrates, twisting her mouth to the side and seeming down to brush dirt off her daughter’s jeans. She was also unaware of her legal rights in seeking compensation for her injury.

Still, Maria Rebecca is afraid that the work could one day hurt her naughtily sufficient to threw her children at risk. After her era in the orchard, she dotes on her three-year-old daughter, whose pitch-black mane she carefully combs back and secures with tiny barrettes. She lives in her sister’s nice mobile home, and maintains a straighten and stable number for her child( her sister sells Tupperware from the back of a gondola ).

” I can’t imagine not working in the fields ,” she says.” I always want to keep working, because I never miss a mortal to be able to control me and ask students how I spent his coin. But I repute I am going to leave this work. I descended again last week. I recollect I want to go to Mexico .”

Blanca, 36

Blanca,
Blanca, 36, says she is good at pedicures, but is not eligible to do that in the US because she is undocumented.’ It’s harder for women to work the fields. Some can, but I’m just not be applicable to it .’ Photograph: Veronica G Cardenas/ The Guardian

Blanca first entered the US more than a decade ago by simply going across one of the bridges that relate Mexico to the Rio Grande Valley, she says, a bit nervously, since things are different now.” Now to get here you have to pay …” she says, although she leaves unsure whether she symbolizes the coyotes who traffic beings across the border or paying with their own lives, as many migrants do.

When she first came to the US, she found her effort options forestalling.” I have been able to do pedicures really well, I are certainly skilled at it actually. But I can’t do that kind of work here, because I don’t have articles .” So she went back to Mexico, taking her family with her.

But life was not much easier in Tamaulipas state, especially after her husband left two years ago to look for better-paying work back in the US. He obtained it in the fields, and where reference is first gratify and be engaged in a vehicle to speak, he kneels just out of earshot in the dirt, plucking beets while keeping a wary gaze on her. She requested her husband’s allow before agreeing to be interviewed.

Blanca says that during the time that he was gone, leaving her behind in Mexico to raise their five girls, she started to feel scared for her security.” We lives in a neat target in Mexico, but I lived in a rancho with very few people around, so anytime a person depicted up at the house, I was feared .” Plus, with a home full of adolescents- her five children range from 20 to three- she started to worry about their future.” There’s a lot of crime, and I didn’t want my sons working for those goons. I wanted them working for good .” Five a few months ago, she lastly packed up the children to join him. She avoids the issue of how they spanned this time.

Farmworkers
Farmworkers picking beets in the Rio Grande Valley. Photograph: Veronica G Cardenas/ The Guardian

Like her husband, Blanca has taken on fieldwork, even though she does not make she is well-suited to it.” It’s harder for women to work the fields. Some can, but I’m just not used to it .” She still hasn’t experienced a summertime of working in the fields of south Texas, but she is already dreading the heat.” When we walk in the sunbathe it is so bad. But too, where reference is rains it’s bad too, because your legs get wearied from marching in the silt. And lifting the onions … it’s really heavy .” She tried working the citrus trees like Maria Rebecca but says she quit because it was too hard.

Still, she says she wouldn’t sell fieldwork for life back in Mexico.” I affection that here, the boys can go to a good academy and that we can find work ,” she says.” I don’t think I will ever go back to Mexico- only if I am coerced .” She says that she still lives with a high degree of uncertainty:” I rent my home, so we could get knocked out ,” she clarifies, as she gestures around the broken-down trailer home her children are chasing fly-covered puppies out front of.” It’s hard to live this practice because you could go to work and merely not come back because the immigration officials pictured up.

” Trump says he doesn’t want immigrants here, and I think it’s obvious he only hates immigrants. But my question is, why don’t you want us if we work so difficult ?”

Shannon Sims is a fellow of the International Women’s Media Foundation and funding recipients of the Howard G Buffett Fund for Women Journalists

Read more: www.theguardian.com


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