CIRS Blog about Rural California
Interviews with female farm workers were conducted by Vallerye Mosquera and Luis Magana in 2011. The stories below were excerpted from three of these interviews and edited by Gail Wadsworth for posting here.
I’m 28-years-old. I came to California in 2006 after paying a coyote* to cross the border.
When I work, I pick blueberries. I wake up between 3:30 and 4 in the morning so I can get things done for my kids before I leave for the fields at 5. I ride to work in a van with 10-12 other workers. The van doesn’t have air conditioning but it does have windows. It’s close in there and I’m hot at work from the very beginning. I go into the rows of blueberries with a partner and fill and empty the buckets as fast as I can. I move from place to place very quickly so I can make enough money for the day. I sweat. I am not hired by the farmer; I work on my own with a contractor, six days a week. My pay depends on what I pick.
The sun has the same effect on me whether I am packing corn in the evening or picking blueberries during the day. It makes me feel like I am suffocating. When I feel overheated at work, I use the shade structures provided by the company and I drink water.
One time I got sick from overheating. I felt like I was suffocating, not really dizzy, but desperate to get out of the fields. It was in the blueberry fields. I went to find shade, drank water, and put water on my face, and I felt better after that. I put cold water on a paper towel, put it under my hat, and went back into the field. I didn’t ask for any help, because I wanted to work and make money.
Another time, I was working in clearing the tomato fields with a friend who became extremely ill because of overheating. She drank lots of water, but she just threw it all up. We went out of the field to find shade, but the owner fired us because we took an unauthorized break.
When I get home, I take a shower and relax until it’s time to make dinner for my family and lunches for the next day. I don’t usually cook in the oven so it doesn’t get hotter. We live in a one-bedroom apartment in town. We have one window air conditioner in the living room that cools us off a little. We have a window air conditioner in the bedroom that doesn’t work. But we have two fans in the bedroom that provide cool air. We don’t open our windows at night. It’s dangerous because of the people who are up to no good in the streets, outside of our fence.
I’m 27-years-old, married with two kids. I’ve lived here for four years.
I wake up at 4:30 a.m. I get my kids ready for the babysitter. Then I prepare my lunch. I wear a long sleeved shirt to work, pants, long socks, and sunblock. I also wear a hat and a handkerchief under my hat. It takes about 2 and ½ hours to get to work. I start work at 7 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.
I work packing melons in the field. I work on contract. My team gets paid $25 to fill a trailer with melons. If we can’t fill a trailer, then we get paid 25 cents per box.
We take a break on Sundays. In the winter, I don’t work because the work is harder for women. It’s all pruning and harvesting almonds. For broccoli and lettuce, the companies already have their people and don’t ask for more workers. I went to prepare fields one day with a company that I didn’t know, and they wouldn’t give me and my friend a hoe. We had to use our hands for eight hours digging up the field.
I’ve never been affected by heat stress. I’ve heard about it from classes in the field. I know that it’s when you get a headache and begin to sweat a lot. You have to drink a lot of water and rest in the shade.
At the end of the day, I get a ride home with the raitero* When I get home, I bathe, then go to get my kids, and then I make dinner, and sometimes lunch for the next day. I notice my house gets very hot when I use the stove. I feel like I am suffocating at work in the sun, and I feel that heat again when I cook at home. I think this is because I am tired and working long hours.
We live in a house with five bedrooms. In the house there is a family with six kids, a couple, and me, my husband, and my two kids. The house has central air conditioning that works well. But the house still gets warm when we cook, especially the living room. We only pay $300 rent for one room.
Cherries and Grapes
I’m 42-years-old and have lived here since 2005.
I work in the cherries in the spring, then grapes and nuts in fall. I take a break in August and don’t work in the pruning. My husband works in peaches, but I haven’t been invited.
I get paid by the piece, which makes it necessary for me to work very fast.
I got sick today. I told the foreman that I was feeling bad, and he made me drink water. I couldn’t keep the water down. The more water I drank, the more I had to vomit. The foreman told me to stop working, and to go rest under the shade tent. I felt worse under the tent, maybe the red color trapped heat. I told him that I wanted to go sit under an almond tree, which felt cooler. He stayed with me a moment, and then went back to continue tallying boxes for the workers. I took off my pull-over and began to feel better. Many people think it’s warmer under the shade tents and they don’t really help you feel cooler.
I didn’t go to the clinic. This is third time that I’ve gotten sick enough where I was vomiting. This happens when the sun gets really hot, over 90 degrees. This has happened to me when I was picking cherries and grapes.
I drink water when I am in the field. I don’t usually bring my own water, but sometimes I bring a few bottles if I don’t like the water that is provided at a certain work site. Sometimes the water provided makes my stomach hurt. Once, when I told the foreman, he didn’t take any actions and the water continued to be bad.
I felt bad yesterday too. But my husband told me to keep working since we were almost finished. I kept working, but began to feel a cold sweat and felt like I was going to die. I sat down, and the foreman asked me to leave the field. But I couldn’t really move, so I just sat there for the rest of the day. I felt shaky and like I was going to faint. I got to the point where I could only see blackness. I took off my handkerchief and pull-over. I told the foreman I couldn’t walk and would just stay there. We were far inside the row, and I didn’t think I couldn’t make it out of the field.
If I ever couldn’t stop vomiting, I would ask the foreman to take me to a clinic.
The work in grapes is very dirty. I end the day covered in thick grape juice that has a very powerful smell. It’s an ugly job. I harvest the grapes with a knife. I make $40 a day or $1.50/box. I work in a team of 19 people, but not everyone makes the same amount. Those who work faster, make more.
I live in a three-bedroom trailer with my husband and five kids. I feel safe in the trailer park. We have an air conditioning box but it doesn’t really work. We never open the windows because they don’t have screens and I’m afraid my kids could fall out of them. We have a few trees behind our house that we sit under when we want to cool off.
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