At the farm in Hermon, NY that I have been visiting since last summer to help conduct English language classes, one worker, whom I will refer to as Juan Garcia, was very dedicated to learning English and agreed to share with me some of his experiences as a migrant worker in the US. I will be sharing some key elements of his life story over the course of three posts. In this first post I discuss his background, his journey from Mexico to the US, and his experiences working on farms in New York shortly after he arrived.
Juan Garcia is 22 years old and from Chiapas, Mexico. His family lives on an ejido (communal agricultural land) in Chiapas, where he used to work prior to migrating to the US. Juan described the ejido land system as being more sustainable and explained that the food is better because there are fewer chemicals used in the farming techniques. He claims, however, that once the government got involved and liberalized trade, things started to change because they tried to add chemicals to the agricultural practices.
While Juan was growing up on the ejido, a teacher came to the ejido to conduct classes. Juan, however, only attended school for about two or three years. Afterwards, he worked on the ejido. Juan has three sisters and two brothers, and he is the oldest in his family. At his home in Chiapas, the men have always worked on the ejido and the women have worked in the house and cooked.
Juan left his home in Chiapas for the US on November 21, 2012. He was the first person in his immediate family to migrate to the US, but he had had cousins and uncles who were already working in the US. Juan decided to migrate to the US because he aspires to have his own house in Mexico and does not want to remain dependent on his parents for his whole life. He claimed that working the US was the “única manera” (“only way”) to achieve this goal and that he has to “luchar para lo que querría” (“fight for what I would like”) in his life. Upon his eventual return to Mexico he is hoping to work in the business field in a city, possibly Cancún (Quintana Roo).
Juan’s entire journey from Mexico to the US, as well as the various locations where he has worked in the US, are illustrated on the map above. It took Juan roughly two full months to complete his journey from Mexico and to find work in the US. After leaving Chiapas he went to Alta Sonora and then passed through the desert to Phoenix, Arizona. In order to cross the border he had to pay a coyote (border crossing guide) roughly $2000, which he paid once he arrived in Phoenix. From Phoenix he traveled with a raitero to New York City, a journey that took about 6 days. A raitero, or “ride giver,” is typically a Spanish speaking individual who serves as part of an informal network for immigrants and functions as an alternative to a taxi by providing rides to specific workplaces, grocery stores, doctor’s appointments and court appointments. From New York City Juan took a taxi to a farm in Dansville, NY, where five of his cousins were working and helped him find a job within a week. He had been in contact with his cousins since leaving Chiapas and was planning to meet up with them in New York. One of his cousins gave him money for the taxi, which cost $500, and Juan later paid him back. The entire trip, including the fees charged by the coyote, the raitero, and the taxi as well as alimentation along the way, cost him roughly $7,000. It took him the first five months of work to fully pay off the debt.
The first dairy farm he worked at in Dansville, NY had 3,000 cows and 25 Mexican workers. He was responsible for milking the cows on this farm and worked 12-hour days. While working on this farm he was able to leave because the owner of the farm had a driver that took the workers off the farm to go to Wal-Mart every Tuesday and Friday. After working on the farm in Dansville for six months, he was informed about a job in Montpelier, Vermont through a Facebook message from a friend from Chiapas who was also working in the US. He received a ride from a raitero to make the seven-hour trip to this farm. Juan told me that he liked working in Vermont more than New York and there were many more opportunities there.
In the next post, I will discuss Juan’s experiences working on some farms in Vermont and traveling back and forth between New York, Kentucky and Vermont to find work.
Advocacy groups near farms where Juan has worked: