From New American Media, an interview by David Bacon with Lorena Hernandez, a young farm worker and single mother from Oaxaca, Mexico who currently lives in Madera, Calif., with her daughter and aunt.
MADERA, Calif.–To go pick blueberries I have to get up at four in the morning. First I make my lunch to take with me, and then I get dressed for work. For lunch I eat whatever there is in the house, mostly bean tacos. Then the ritero, the person who gives me a ride to work, picks me up at 20 minutes to five.
I work as long as my body can take it, usually until 2:30 in the afternoon. Then the ritero gives me a ride home, and I get there by 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon. By then I’m really tired.
I pay $8 each way to get to work and back home. Right now they’re paying $6 for each bucket of blueberries you pick, so I have to fill almost three buckets just to cover my daily ride. The contractor I work for, Elias Hernandez, hooks us up with the riteros. He’s the contractor for 50 of us farm workers picking blueberries, and I met him when a friend of my aunt gave me his number.
I’ve known Elias two years now, since the first time we worked putting plastic on the grape vines. On that job, which lasts a month, we put pieces of plastic over the vines so that it looks like an igloo. They do this so the grapes won’t burn from the frost. The grapes are almost ready to pick when we do this, but we don’t pick them. Other people come after us to do that.
I pick grapes for raisins or wine with another contractor. I’ve worked with many contractors doing many different jobs. Sometimes I work a lot with the same contractor, but sometimes it changes — it depends on how they treat me. I also try to find work that’s easier. To me the contractors are all the same, but some treat us better than others, so I go with them.