Today I write with heartfelt appreciation for the man Cesar Chavez, who in his own struggles and experiences worked hard to help himself and other migrant workers. In another post called Migrant Workers In The Valleys I give a small glimpse of my work day picking grapes in Coachella Valley. Here are some recommendations that come from memories lodged in the recesses of my 9th grade mind.
How To Dress Appropriately For A Hot Desert Day
Summer time in the Imperial Valley brings temperatures as high as 120° Fahrenheit. From the moment the dry hot burning sun rises around 6:30 am it would penetrate our skin and our heads. Asi es, I felt like it was frying us. When we went to work in the grapevines we covered up our skin and heads, otherwise the sun would make us ill. I don’t remember ever using sunscreen. I thought that because I’m brown I wouldn’t get sunburned. Ya se Ya se. Instead, we wore layers to protect our skin from the burning sun. It felt like a double whammy, since the layers made me perspire and others (not me) would sweat. Wet, smelly sweat came through the layers of protection. Por favor, don’t forget the deodorant. The ugly odor that hit me sitting in the back of that truck was offensive! Hijole! I to wanted to keep my paño over my face, but the suffocating heat was worse during that long ride home. Finally, having long hair, my mother always told me, “haste la trenza!” I always ignored her advice to wear the plain old braid, and someone always ended up braiding my dirty hair halfway through the day. My daughter said, “braids are cool today mom.”
Sometimes, even with our efforts to protect ourselves, the sun got to us. One day at work, late in the morning, when we were almost done for the day, a woman about my mothers age, fifty something, went down right in the middle of vines, with half a bucket of uvas. It seemed like it took the mayordomo and some of the other workers a long time to revive her. Hijole! The sun and heat knocked her out! But I never worried that my ama could be affected like that. I was a child, de veras, nothing could happen to my strong ama. Even when she’d come out from under the grapevines, face covered in dirt, and I could tell the extreme heat was burning her cheeks, I just knew she’d be ok.
Drinking The Right Amount Of Water:
Drinking water out in the hot fields was tricky. If you drank too much you could get sick, especially if it was nice and cool. Too much water would swoosh around in your belly slowing you down. Yet you shouldn’t neglect drinking it, waiting too long could also make you sick. We teenagers tended to want to be at the water jug too often. My ama seemed to know just how much we could handle and under her watchful eye we had just enough water to be useful.
We started our days in teams of 3 or 4 people, usually families. We got paid by the boxes that were packed and approved so a picker had to work hard and fast to get grapes over to the packer. Those serious adults who had bills waiting for them and families to feed, they knew how to work. Good pickers got their flow or rhythm and tried not to waste time by stopping. Imagine an aerobic workout. Stretch up to clip the cluster of grapes, bend down to carefully, but quickly place it in the bucket. Two or three steps to the next cluster, clip, drop, one, two, three, and repeat until the bucket is full. Fill two buckets, one for each hand, then briskly walk all the way down the long grape vine row and leave your buckets of grapes to the care of the packer. Just remembering that scorching sun makes me glad my ama rotated us sisters as packers. Picking grapes was hard on the body and packing them beautifully in the box could be hard on the ego, because if the mayordomo didn’t approve it, it had to be repacked, which also meant loss of precious time since we could safely only work until 11am before the sun turned up its heat.
As a little kid, I totally enjoyed life out in the desert, not much bothered me. I didn’t see life as hard, my apa and ama covered me and my siblings well. As a teen I only paid attention to the important stuff like playing sports. I was very much concerned about my ama getting my tennis shoes on time for volleyball season in the fall.
When I was dragged into the peaceful protest regarding the conditions of the grapevine workers, con mucha pena, I confess that I was only worried about how very tired, dirty, hot and ready to go home I felt. I didn’t care about negotiations, or break throughs, the dirt meshed with sweat and heat was not a fair opponent.
Ahora si, I can see that while I was distracted, history was being shaped and God did helped us. Thank God for men and women that are willing to stand up in the face of adversity and fight for a righteous cause as Cesar Chavez did.