In the second installment of her three-part profile of migrant farm worker Juan Garcia, Weave News reporter Julianne DeGuardi details Juan's story of moving among a number of different work opportunities in New York, Vermont, and Kentucky. Read Part I.
In Montpelier, the farm where Juan worked was much smaller than the dairy farm in Dansville, with only 480 cows and three workers. He worked on this farm for six months, and despite the demanding work hours he had the opportunity to participate in some of the asambleas (assemblies) that are organized for workers by the Migrant Justice organization. While working in Montpelier he was able to leave the farm by himself. Unfortunately, however, during his six months working on this dairy farm he injured his arm and was no longer able to use force and work with the cows, so he decided to go to Hillsboro, Kentucky, where his uncles were working.
In Kentucky, Juan worked for a tobacco company and was able to rest his arm. He was only allowed to work in Hillsboro for five months because in the cities they offer temporary rather than year-round work. After working for these five months and healing his arm, he returned to Vermont to work on a dairy farm, but he does not remember the name of the specific location because he was never able to leave the farm to go to the store.
After working in Vermont for a year, Juan left to join his friends in Batavia, NY, where he ended up finding a job on a small farm and worked there for four months. Unfortunately he did not like this job very much and he heard about another job in Hermon, NY, so he paid a raitero for transportation to this farm, which is where I met Juan. This farm is one of the largest farms he worked at, with roughly 3,000 cows. Several of the workers at the farm in Hermon choose not to leave the farm because they are afraid of being detained by Border Patrol due to the farm’s close proximity to the border. One of the workers whom I also met on this farm told me that he has been working on this farm for three years and has not left once.
On this farm there is a woman who is responsible for cashing the workers’ checks who also brings a truck full of food every two weeks so the workers do not have to leave the farm to buy food. The wife of the farm owner also brings the workers food every Saturday. Juan explained, however, that he had left the farm many times to buy his own groceries, using either a taxi or a raitero until this past fall when he was stopped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Wal-Mart. He was detained in customs from around 5pm to 2am and then finally allowed to leave because he did not have a criminal record.
During this encounter the only identification he had on him was a matrícula consular, a form of identification offered by the Mexican government that contains his full name, date of birth, and address where he lived in the US when he acquired the card. This form of identification does not affect immigration status, but it proves that Juan is a Mexican citizen residing in the US. Juan received this while working on the farm in Batavia, NY, when the Mexican consulate visited to assist migrant workers with obtaining matrículas and passports. Juan claims that it helps a lot to have a matrícula in the US because it functions as another form of ID that border patrol authorities are more likely to accept.
During one of our conversations at the farm in Hermon, he expressed that the work was “good” but just boring because the workers were rarely able to leave. He explained that as a migrant he is learning about himself but he described this experience as “una lucha [pero] cuando regrese a México, ya había sufrido” (“it is a struggle, but when I return to Mexico I will have already suffered”). He mentioned that he sends money home to his family and isn’t able to talk with them very often.
After working on the farm in Hermon for eight or nine months, Juan got into an argument with some of the other workers with whom he lived and decided to return to Vermont to work. He heard about the job opening in Vermont through a ratiero and decided to take advantage of this opportunity. Prior to leaving for Vermont he spent a few days with some of his cousins and brother in law on a farm in Canton. In January he began working on a dairy farm in Huntington, VT, a very small farm with only 200 cows and three workers. Although I was no longer able to visit him at the farm in Hermon, we continued to converse via WhatsApp text and voice messages.
The third and final post in this series will discuss Juan’s recent experiences working on farms in Vermont in comparison with those in New York, especially his access to medical care in each state.
Advocacy groups near farms where Juan has worked: