Separation of Families

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

Photo courtesy of Student Action with Farmworkers
Photo courtesy of Student Action with Farmworkers

Demetrio is a son, father, brother, and a farmworker. He lives in a house with two of his brothers, Gonzalo and Miguel. His fourth brother stays in Mexico with the rest of his family. Before this season, Demetrio had been to the U.S., but it’s his first year as an H2A farmworker, and he doesn’t plan on returning if economically possible. He explains that it’s not the physical part of the work that’s hard; in fact he enjoys being a farmworker and getting to see the literal fruits of his labor, but rather it’s the fact that he’s hundreds of miles away from his family that makes him never want to return.

Demetrio is the more serious one in his family. He doesn’t go with his brother to jaripeos and he’s not frivolous with his words. Most of the time his facial expressions are limited but his eyes always give away his emotions. 
When we began our first interview, Demetrio seemed a little detached. He answered yes or no to most of our questions; however, when we began asking more about his family, we saw his eyes tell a different story. Demetrio told us that his wife was expecting his third child. The baby was due in two weeks so he wouldn’t be able to be there for his son’s birth and in fact wouldn’t be able to meet his son until November when his son would already be 5 months old.

During our second interview, Demetrio showed us pictures of his newborn son who still doesn’t have a name. He seemed proud and sad at the same time. We asked about what he wondered and at first, he said he didn’t ask himself or wonder anything, but after we explained the prompt again and gave a few examples, he said he wondered everyday if the rest of his life would be like this, separated and away from his family. The room felt dense, almost like you could feel the weight that he carries. It’s not just that he has to miss big and important family moments like the birth of a child, but it’s knowing everyday his children are growing up, trying new things and learning about themselves and the people that they want to become, while he’s not there to see or influence it.

Demetrio meditates on this reality everyday, and I now understand why he has such a serious demeanor. 
Hearing Demetrio talk about his two young daughters and seeing the way he looked at the picture of his newborn son made me think of my dad. When my brother and I were growing up, my dad had to work long hours and travel a lot for his job. I know how hard it was for both my parents for him to be away, even if it was only for a few days of the week. However, he was able to be there for all the important moments like my birth and subsequent birthdays, graduation, and Christmas. Like my dad, Demetrio would do anything for his kids, even if that means sacrificing his own relationship with them to give them more opportunities.

Catherine Crowe, 2015 SAF Fellow
Piedmont Health Services