Not Your Everyday Field Trip
It’s 3:30 a.m. and I’m facing the old parking lot in front of The Fiesta Supermarket. As I observe the farm workers organize themselves into the four colored buses from my mom’s beat up excursion. I become nervous. I didn’t expect so many buses to be here.
“Remember, it’s the white bus with green trim,” my mom tells me, “The man you’re looking for is Geraldo Sanchez.” I nod looking nervously at the crowd of workers. “I have to get out of the excursion don’t I?” I say to my mom nervously. “Yup,” She says nodding. After a few pep talks I brave myself and leave the safety of my mom’s excursion.
I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I approached the crowd of farmworkers. I stood there in the, midst of all the moving, unsure of what to do. A couple of the farmworkers gave me strange looks and I didn’t blame them. Here was a 19 year old girl oddly dressed in hand-me-downs clutching a bag of tacos, a bandana and wearing the most ridiculous trucker hat. I would stare at myself if I were them. Feeling the growing pressure I began to walk again, reminding myself of who I was looking for. Finally I caught a glimpse of a white cowboy hat. That must be Geraldo Sanchez and yes it was. The man was standing in front of a white school bus that had green trim. I smiled and made a beeline towards him.
I approach the tall man and introduce myself. He looks at me extremely unimpressed. Mustering up all of my courage, I go on explaining that I’m here to work. After what seemed like forever the man gives me a small nod and tells me to get on the bus.
Clutching my mom’s tacos I climb onto the bus. After finding a seat, I watch as the bus fills up. I get a couple of strange looks from some and small smiles from others. But while these people didn’t seem angry that I was here they seemed to know that I didn’t belong. Did they know that I was a college student? That I was just doing this because I wanted to write about an experience. Not because I needed to support my family like so many of them had to do.
I began to silently panic and dread the rest of the day. Finally the bus engine started up and the last of the stragglers found seats the empty space next to me had become occupied by a woman in her late 30’s. Trying to become a friend to this woman I smiled and said, “good morning”. She smiled and returned the greeting. I introduced myself telling her that I was 19 and that this was my first day. She gave a small laugh and told me “I’m Rosa. I used to be 19 a while ago.” I gave her an awkward look, not knowing what to make of this comment. She gave another laugh, this one heartier. “That was supposed to be funny Mary!” I gave a nervous laugh as I felt myself become more comfortable.
As the bus ride continued I stared out the window watching Immokalee slowly disappear. “Where are we headed?” I asked Rosa as the bus passed the Indian reservation. “We’re going to a small ranch right outside of Immokalee. It’s not that far,” said Rosa as she glanced over my head to look out of the window. After about 20 minutes the bus turned onto a bumpy unpaved road that soon gave way to an expanse of field. “This is it.” said Rosa as all the workers began to get up when the bus came to a halt.
My heart sped up as I stepped off of the bus. I wasn’t sure what was going on but I got into the line where the crew leader was passing out the buckets where the tomato was going to be put in. Once getting our buckets Rosa began explaining to me what I was going to do. “You pick the tomato like this,” said Rosa as she made a bit of hand moments in the air. “Then you put the tomato in the bucket,” she said as she put her imaginary tomato inside the bucket. “Make sure the bucket is filled. You have to make sure that it looks like a snow cone because if it doesn’t the crew leader won’t like it and if he doesn’t like it you won’t get your tokens.” “Tokens? What tokens?” I said looking confused, “Since you’re only working for the day the crew leader gives you tokens. The tokens show how many buckets you picked. You get paid based on the amount of tokens you have.” The amount that is usually paid to a person for working a day is $30, if you’re lucky.
“Rosa! Mary! What are you doing? Everyone has started! Get your lazy asses to work now!” I jumped startled at the crew leaders screams, I was unaware that Rosa and I were the only ones still standing around the bus. So the work began.
After a while my nose began to bother me. Not wanting to bother Rosa I ignored it. But soon it began to itch. Not knowing what to do, and slightly afraid that my nose was going to fall off due to the pesticide, I voiced my concern to Rosa. “Mary, you didn’t bring a bandana? You should’ve brought one,” she said as she handed me hers. “What are you going to use?” I said concerned for the woman’s health. “Don’t worry about me,” said Rosa smiling “I’ve been working in the fields for 25 years I’ve gotten use to it.” I smiled thanking her numerous times as I tied the bandana around my face.
But the pesticide was the least of my problems. I soon realized the physical tolls that working in the fields could take on a person. My back had begun to ache from bending over and the heat was making itself more present. By 10:00 I was drenched in sweat but despite this I knew that I was lagging. Everyone else was on their third or fourth bucket. I was still on my first. How could they do this so quickly? Using them as an example I gathered up all my strength and began to pick faster. All the while, not looking at what tomatoes I was picking. Finally I managed to pick enough tomatoes to give to the workers. So I grabbed my bucket and heaved it towards the truck.
Giving the workers my bucket wasn’t an easy task. I didn’t have the strength to throw it up. I attempted twice. But both times I was afraid that the tomatoes were going to fall out. After seeing how frustrated I was getting one of the workers climbed down from the truck and told me to hand him the bucket. It took a bit of coaxing for me to swallow my pride but by the end I gave him my bucket. The young man threw the bucket to the other worker as if it weighed nothing. I gave him my thank thanks and he nodded and climbed back up the truck.
As I waited down below to receive my next bucket, I watched as the crew leader look into my bucket. “Mary!” yelled the crew leader. “Did you even look at these tomatoes? They’re not right! I’m not paying you for this. Do it again.” He then threw the empty bucket at me. I could feel my face grow hot from embarrassment but I bit my tongue. I couldn’t afford to talk back, especially since I was young and replaceable.
After what seemed like a life time, the whistle sounded for lunch. Rosa and I headed to some shade under a tree. We sat down underneath it and took out our lunch. “Did your mom make you those?” said Rosa as I pulled out my tacos. “Yeah, she did. She didn’t want me to come,” I said surprised at the fact that I was tearing up, “She said that was why they worked so hard. So I wouldn’t have to go through this.” Rosa nodded knowingly, “There are a lot of younger kids here, way younger than you Mary. I know you’re not from Mexico, which means you had a choice and knowing that you chose this for your life. It makes me sad,” said Rosa as she looked at me. I couldn’t meet her gaze. She knew I wasn’t from here. How would she react if I told her I was just doing this for a class? So I didn’t tell her. We sat in silence eating our lunch and looking at the field.
“How do the younger kids get here?” I asked Rosa. “They lie. They say they’re older than what they actually are and the crew leaders believe them and why not?” Rosa scoffs, “The young kids, they have willing hands. The crew leaders aren’t going to turn them away.” I sat there in silence not sure what to respond to this. Finally we here the whistle signaling that break is over.
The day goes by fast after lunch and I finally get the hang of things. We finish at 5:30. As everyone boards the bus, I remember my pay. So I go in search of Sanchez. I find him in his truck, “I came to get my pay,” I say as he opens the door. He gives me a lazy look and then reaches into his pocket. “The first few buckets you did were complete crap and a lot of the other workers picked up your slack.” He hands me $35. I look into my hands and then back at him. “What?” he says a bit defensively. “Do you expect more?” I stare at him for a few minutes debating whether or not to say anything. I thank him for giving me work. He smiles and nods. Fighting back angry tears I walk back to the bus and climb on. As I sit next to Rosa I explain what happens, “You got off lucky,” says Rosa looking at me with a sad smile. “If your uncle didn’t know him, he probably would’ve given you less.” I look at her and say nothing.
On the ride back Rosa attempts to coax me into a better mood. She even goes as far as inviting me to her house for dinner. I smile and politely decline. I feel a huge relief as the bus pulls into The Fiesta parking lot. The bus parks and I say my thanks to Rosa. As I go towards the Excursion I see my mom and I practically run to meet her. “So? How was it?” my mom says as I approach her. I give her a smile, “I survived.”