Farmworker Life

This is the fourth dispatch from Student Action for Farmworkers in celebration of National Farmworker Awareness Week. For more information, visit the SAF website.ESL Farmworker Life

Over this summer, I have spent a lot of time in farm camps with the farmworkers who live there. They work very hard, all day every day, and then come home late just to shower, cook a quick meal, and get some sleep before they start all over the next morning. Some camps get rest days, but some don’t – it all depends on the man in charge.

It’s been hard sometimes this summer, because as an ESL teacher, you know that you’re coming into these people’s homes to ask them to work after they’ve been working all day. But something I’ve realized as we went along, is that even if they don’t necessarily have much interest in the lessons themselves, all of our students really did appreciate our visits.

The reality of coming to this country to work in the fields is that you essentially give up your life for the time period you spend here. You don’t speak the language, you don’t own a car, you only see native people when you go to the grocery store or out to eat, and usually then they aren’t very welcoming or friendly. You essentially become trapped in this situation where you go from camp, to fields, back to camp, with nothing to look forward to but the same thing every day for however long you spend in the United States.

One of the questions we would ask our students during their final evaluative exam was, “What do you like about the United States?” And it was heartbreaking. It really bothered me, because at least half of them would say “nothing.” And what have they seen, experienced or learned that they should like? Marlene and I are probably the first friendly native-born faces that they’ve seen, other than maybe some of the farmers, and at some camps, there’s not even that.

So, yeah, we came to the camps as teachers, and yes, we were giving them mental work after a long day of physical work, but we were showing them that not everything in this country is hard physical labor, and not everyone in this country is unwelcoming or prejudiced. We were there, just to spend time with them, helping them with whatever they needed, having conversations… It was a casual comfortable social situation with someone who wasn’t a coworker, in a country where they’ve learned not to look for that.

This summer, this experience has given me a whole new understanding of the modern United States. This is a country where everything unsightly is hidden from view, problems are written out of the history books, and conflict is seen as a thing of the past while is continues to exist right in our backyards. I don’t know exactly where I’m going from here, or what my future holds, but this experience has changed the way I perceive the world around me. I feel like, now I will constantly be looking for the hidden things, the ones who lose in every business deal – because if there is a path that will make the world a little brighter, then I hope I can take it.

– Caroline LaFave, 2015 SAF Intern
Lenoir County Migrant Education Program