How many of us are children of migrant workers? or have cousins or brothers or aunts or uncles that are migrant workers in the fields all across the U.S.?
I have a few cousins in Mexico that have helped harvest chile and corn fields here in the U.S. I don't really know much about them, but I do know that they are hardworking people who because of the necessity to feed their children and help out their parents back home have sacrificed their educations, some not even having completed elementary school before taking to the arduous work of a field.
Yesterday, I was given the opportunity to attend an event hosted by a local non-profit here in El Paso, TX that helps give a voice to the field workers, not through protest, or complaints, but through education, poetry, art, and acting. It was a book launch for "Memorias del Silencio: Footprints of the Borderlands." This book is a compilation of poems, photographs, and prose written by field workers who were also given the opportunity to work on getting their GEDs.
Three women went up and read their work. Their pieces were all on the memories they had of their past lives in the ranches of Mexico, about playing as children, and the way their family was before either they or their fathers crossed the border for the elusive American Dream.
Their stories were striking and heartfelt. I sat there and understood how I have often taken my education for granted, being able to mold sentences and use the language- I've taken that for granted. These women wrote poetry and prose in between working the fields or sewing shirts in a factory and feeding their children.
One story that struck me the most was called "Coffee and Donas." The author's name escapes me now, but I promise I will add it as soon as I get back my copy of the book. But it was the author's side of what it was like to see her brother leave Ciudad Juarez for St. Louis Missouri and the hardships he undertook stowing away on a train in order to head up north. She spoke of her thirsty brother lucky enough to find a plastic bottle and a waterhose nearby the rails when the train was still, of how he managed to jump back on as the train started to move again and how after taking his first sip of water in days, he realized the bottle was a Clorox bottle and despite this he downed the little water he had filled it with. With tears in her eyes and occasional breaks in her voice that indicated this narration still brought her much emotion, the author continued the story of her brother who during his initial weeks in St.Louis lived on a diet of strictly coffee and donuts, because he could only say "coffee and donas" in english. Her description was incredibly rich and I could not help but feel the pain she felt when she spoke of a brother who suffered of hunger.
Many of us don't realize that these stories exist and still do today. If we could just take the time to listen and understand then maybe we could learn something and be inspired to make change, even if it is a small one.
Fortunately, my parents' "crossing-over" story was substantially different. My father didn't work the fields, nor has he ever, and my mother never had to feel the pull of the currents of the Rio Bravo, as they call the Rio Grande on the Mexico side, while crossing to an unknown destination. No, they were lucky, and I was lucky. My parents got amnesty after a decade of living in the U.S. and I was born American.
These women's stories, the stories of the other authors, and of people who have not yet received the privilege to share them, deserve to be seen, read and appreciated. Sitting in that auditorium and being witness to their strength only reiterated how proud I am of my culture and how thankful I am to my parents for supporting my education and for trying to get a better life for us.
The book, by the way, is amazing and really inspiring.