Labor  
comments_image Comments

I Was a Child Farmworker

A Q&A with Norma Flores Lopez, director of the children in the fields campaign.

Continued from previous page

 
 
Share

They might start their workday around, say, seven o’ clock in the morning, and are out there during these pretty warm months—especially during the summers. Having to be out there eight, ten, twelve hours a day. Sometimes seven days a week without any days off. Having to go three weeks of working out in the fields without any days off because it’s during the peak harvest.

And they are out there working—you know, it’s very hard, backbreaking work. And it’s hundred-degree weather with high humidity in some of those places. Having to work with sharp tools. Having to work around dangerous chemicals. Having to work around big heavy machinery. Having to perform at the same rate as their adult coworkers, having to keep up with them. And working –you know, picking different types of harvests.

Typically where we see kids is where there’s a lot of hand harvest, for example. And so they’ll be out there till really late, sometimes until they can’t see any more. And that’s when they’ll get pulled out of the fields.

Having to have their lunch breaks out there. Maybe they get a fifteen minute lunchbreak and that’s their only break for the whole day. They don’t get to go to a nice air-conditioned break room but instead have to go out there and eat it under the bus, inside the hot bus or even outside in the fields. They grab whatever food they were able to pack up for themselves, don’t have anywhere to wash their hands, sometimes they’re not even provided with water out there even though it’s required.

Sometimes they’re given water that’s been sitting out there for days. And just to be able to drink—you know sometimes they’re provided with bathrooms. They’re really lucky when they are.

And even for those folks that are provided with a bathroom, those are bathrooms that have not been, you know, cleaned out all season. Or even had the toilet paper replenished.

And so they are out there, these kids, working all day long and then having to go back home. This tends to overlap with them being in school. Even if, let’s say, school is in session, they might go to school but then end up going to work straight after in the fields. We’ve heard of kids working in packing houses till, say, one in the morning and then expected to go back to school and pay attention and have their homework done.

Day in and day out, even if they are feeling ill, they’re still out working in the fields. Because they know that they have to contribute to the family and by missing one day, [they lose] their wages that their family needs to be able to help put food on the table.

In regard to the seasonal farmworker kids, they have lives that are similar to that. They usually don’t have to leave their homes, because they are already living in an agricultural state. But they are having to balance school and trying to work out there in the fields.

So though the [seasonal] family does not follow the harvest, they are taking advantage of those seasons that are available to them, and then just hoping for the best during the off-season, during the winter months. We’ll hear of families, when there is no agricultural work for them to do, having to depend on the local food banks to feed their families.

But in any case, their education is going to be falling behind. Especially those migrant kids who are going to be maybe three months late when they go back home, and year after year after year of having to be moved between different states and different schools, and always getting behind. Some of them are so behind that they end up having no other option but to drop out of school.