Entry 18: The Incredible Story of Griselda, A Migrant Farm Worker
I worked in your orchards of peaches and prunes
I slept on the ground in the light of the moon
On the edge of the city you’ll see us and then
We come with the dust and we go with the wind
-Pastures of Plenty, Woody Guthrie
Griselda left, as many of them do. Uncles, aunts, parents, children, brothers, sisters, strangers, whoever, but they go; they move up north because there isn’t anything here, only dry land, desolate land, and a place called home.
There must be something there; so and so has a cousin up there and he’s rich! Always sending money! We want money! We need money! Leave everything behind – wife, kids, husband, mothers, fathers, a past, an identity, land, and dreams.
She got onto a bus to go up north, exported through the coastal route, Sinaloa, green and great, Sonora, dry and dead, Baja with a fresh air of smog, of progress, of stagflation, of deportation and lost hopes stuck there, hot and sticky.
Out of the bus into Mexicali, traffic rushing back and forth. Where you from? Guatemala? El Salvador? Oaxaca? Sinaloa? Who in Mexicali is from Mexicali? Who knows?
She talked to a coyote, you know, the same one that crossed the cousins, we have to get out of Mexicali in less than a week, after that Mexicali claims you and you’ll live here forever eating Chinese food and smelling old men, smog, and grease from food carts.
Into the night she went, along with the others. Some die in the desert, some drown in a river, some are killed by the coyotes, and some are killed by the border patrol agents who see the men as threats and the women as prey.
They move swiftly, she moves quickly, protected by her father, protected by her dreams and the things her mother taught her. She sees how they are treated, not like people; they’re like cattle, like chicken, polleros! Move, move, move! Gotta get across before dawn. Three days of walking, food gone on the second day, water gone by the third, and two died somewhere in between.
And she steps into the city, she sees people walking around, Chinese people speaking Spanish, Men with guitars playing songs, people shopping, eating, this is the United States? Smells horrible. Nothing like she expected, go in, eat here! Tastes terrible! Like chewing on rubber!
Let’s go! Move, move, move, my brother is waiting for us; he’ll take us north. More north? Yes the jobs are always north. Move, move, move, through the crowd of people, looking dirty, looking confused, not wanting to leave yet because they’re tired, they just need a little rest.
Into the car, up north through desert, a lot of desert, dry with small mountains beginning to appear on the right, rocky, brown, blue skies, white clouds, no rain, doesn’t smell like rain. It never rains here. Up and down because it’s hilly and she comes across a huge lake or sea, or, what is that thing? A large body of water, man-made, filled with too much salt, smells horrible in the summertime when it gets too hot and the wind is too strong. But it’s huge! Beautiful! Deadly and polluted.
Into the cities, small cities, not very big cities. She sees a sign: Welcome to Coachella. Coachella? Yes Coachella, this is where she will live, Coachella. It’s nice, with a beautiful view of mountains but hot as hell in the summer and cold in the winters, she’ll have to get used it.
Why Coachella? Because there’s work in Coachella! But not all year around; if they want to work right now she and her father will have to move up north. Even more north? That’s right, go north, follow the migration patterns, watch out for migras and cops.
And so they do, they move north with the patterns, working with lettuce, chiles, tomatoes, living in shacks, small shacks, twenty people, perverted men, strong mujeres, weak mujeres, mujeres with children, mujeres with pictures of their children in their pockets, men with alcohol in their breaths and not a crumb of food in their bellies, and good, strong men like Griselda’s father. They are all migrants moving north, east, south, as extreme as you dare to go.
Don’t want to go too far? Guess you can go back south, we’re going east, that’s where the work is now. I thought work was up north. We’re as north as we can be! It’s east now! She sighs with a basket of apples in her hand, her eyes have seen so much land, her feet have traveled so far and she’s gotten nowhere closer to going back home to rest, to smell her own bed.
Sometimes they separate and find each other in Oxnard or Salinas to pick strawberries. Why strawberries? The best kind of fruit to pick, but you have to be quick! Move, move, move!
Pick, pick, pick! So what if she needs a break? Her back hurting from bending over all day? Then get another job!
And they move in herds, live in garages — ten, fifteen, twenty people per garage! Worker’s rights? What’s that? The boss doesn’t like that sort of talk. Going east? South? Go, go, go, move, move, move.
And so it goes for the migrant farm worker. They just have to keep on moving, make sure the children’s stomachs are full of food even though they are away, a million miles away. I’ll never have any of my own like this, Griselda thinks, but that was long ago, years ago.
And so it is that life goes on, with the seasons of different pickings and pretty soon Griselda knows the rhythms of the migration patterns, and she knows where she’ll be working in two weeks. And maybe she will repeat the pattern for years to come, or maybe one day she will move out east if she dares, although most don’t; they continue the cycle. One by one by one, for many years to come.
The Diary of Joaquín Magón” is written by Jesús E. Valenzuela Félix, a reporter from Coachella living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers. He contributes regularly to Coachella Unincorporated.