...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


So on the third day of the program, we did this poverty simulation, a 24-hours-in-the-life-of-a-migrant kind of a thing. After sleeping in cars, since a lot of migrant workers are homeless, we drove in to the orchards at 6:45 for a full day of work. We each were paired up with a worker who taught us that day's trabajo. My pareja's name was Pedro, and after awhile I got over my nervousness of speaking Spanish with an actual hispanohablante and tried to get to know him. Pedro: twenty-seven years old, been in the US for eight or nine years, living and working with his brothers. His mother stayed in Mexico, but she died. Married and expecting his first child, a girl whom he and his wife are going to name Melissa. Not a member of United Farm Workers of Washington because it makes it more difficult to get work, but he supports them. He sang as he worked and joked with the other men, talking about which countries had won the latest fútbol games, arguing good-naturedly about a bet someone had lost, and swearing like a drunken sailor.

Pedro was from a rural village in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca, one of the most impoverished areas of the country. In addition to Spanish, he spoke an indigenous language--Mixteca, I think. Listening to Pedro talk about the indigenous people of Oaxaca, I was overcome with how much he looked Joary, a little indigenous southern Mexican toddler I met at Migrant Headstart a couple of years ago. The same round faces and burnt umber skin--the same wide-set, almond shaped eyes and easy smiles. I listened to Pedro distractedly, thinking of Joary and wondering where he was, hoping that he was safe and healthy, growing in right paths, hoping that he wouldn't have to spend his whole life in the fields.

On that day, the crew was working with the young apple trees, tying them to bamboo posts so that they'd grow straight, then stapling the post to metal wires running parallel to the ground so that the pole wouldn't fall over. It wasn't hard work, exactly, just very repetitive--we were at it for about eight hours, with no more breaks than the workers themselves took. There was a lot of bending over, so my back hurt after awhile, and my fingers started to hurt where the plastic green tape we used to tie the trees cut across my skin as I ripped strips from the roll.

After a few hours, I had used up a complete roll of tape. "Necesito más cinta," I told Pedro, my partner. "I need more tape." Rather than give me the spare roll of tape that was sticking out of his work apron, Pedro started tearing long strips of tape off the roll for me. I cringed--did he think I was being wasteful with the tape?

"¿Estoy usando demasiado?" I asked. "Am I using too much?"

"No, no, estás haciéndolo bien,"He assured me. "No, no, you're doing it fine." "Corto la cinta para que no te duelas tanto las manos." "I'm cutting the tape so that you don't hurt your hands so much."

Thank you, Pedro.