The Diary Of Joaquín Magón Entry 9: La Nueva Cosecha
Have you ever wondered about the gap between farm workers and their children? How many layers of disconnect do they have—between generation, culture, language, etc.? I certainly don’t know. Nor does the organizer that originally posed that question. But we’ve started to find that answer.
During a meeting, we asked our farm worker members about their children and they seemed to have been asked something so obvious yet so well hidden. The question: Where in waking before dawn, going to work, working 12 hours, getting home late, tired and wanting rest; where, in the equation for a routine, do their children come in?
To understand this question one must understand the sons and daughters of farm workers and the identities they carry—brown children, poor children, children that speak no English, undocumented children having to adapt to a new society, children born here having to balance two identities, indigenous children having to balance three identities, more if they identify as queer. They are children with no time to establish roots; children of intersectionality; daughters and sons who may or may not know the struggles of their parents—why they work the way they do and why they come home as tired as they do, or why their parents visit the office with the black eagle on it.
That is how La Nueva Cosecha, a group of about 10 high school and one middle school student with the objective of helping farm workers, began. At first it was nameless, as shapeless as an idea with a potential not quite understood. I don’t do this as part of my job, not as a group led by or supported by the UFW. I donate my afternoons to them.
Meetings lasted hours and no one was sure what exactly we wanted to do. But I began to understand that there is a need for these students to express themselves; that they had been passed over by society and they didn’t even know it, that they didn’t feel connected to groups that told them that college is how they wouldn’t turn out like their parents because these students are proud of their parents. They began to see that society looked down on them and they have to reclaim the dignity that comes with being a farm worker and a farm worker’s child.
We tried a number of things in those meetings, a mix between action-based activism and a more reflective, healing-based activism. They opened wounds and analyzed them in their short minutes of speaking. I was almost ashamed because I wasn’t more prepared to deal with this as a teacher, or a counselor, or as anything other than the person that provides them this space.
I feel they appreciated me not interjecting with answers or guidance like someone older than them would. I let them figure themselves out.
“Being part of Nueva Cosecha is inspiring because I get to help farm workers and in that way I am helping my mother as well because she’s a farm worker,” said Manuel Ontiveros, a high school senior and president of La Nueva Cosecha.
Ontiveros knows the struggles of his mother who works harvesting iceberg lettuce. “Her boss keeps pushing her harder and harder even though she’s doing everything perfectly. And even if she stands up to stretch, the foreman tells her to keep working. She stays most of the day bent over and that’s what keeps making her back hurt. She’s 40-something and she keeps working there because she doesn’t have any other options.”
Now they want to learn how to write blogs so I gave them an assignment, one I completed before that helped me appreciate the struggles of my mother. The assignment: Write where you come from. I explained that our stories do not start the day we are born; they started before, when our parents made the choice to emigrate, when they made the choice to stay in X community for X reasons and we are shaped by those decisions even though they were not our own.
The past few meetings have been organized around stopping the use of Methyl Iodide, a pesticide considered to be the most dangerous chemical on earth.
I don’t know where La Nueva Cosecha will go nor do I know the form that it will take. However it is inspiring to see high school and middle school students involved. This is how I hope to answer that original question about the connection between farm workers and their children—not by investigating the actual gap through the lens of an academic but, rather, by helping bridge that gap.
* “Joaquín Magón” is a youth reporter from Coachella living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers. He contributes blogs regularly for Coachella Unincorporated.
Students talking to farm workers about different issues they face in the fields.