Contest winners share their experiences as children of farmworkers
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — As we prepare for our Thanksgiving meals, let’s take a moment to remember the thousands of farm workers who work from dusk till dawn to make sure you have the food you need. As the children of these farm workers will tell you, it’s hard work.
Edwin Juarez, one of the winners of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs Children in the Field Campaign essay and art contest, understands it well.
“Let’s just respect mom, because she’s coming home late. She’s tired, so let’s clean the house,” Juarez said.
Juarez’s mother is a farm worker. Like other farming parents, she works long hours at a difficult job, but always comes home and takes care of her children, who notice her sacrifices.
“I’m proud of my mother for being able to survive working in the hot sun, day in and day out,” Juarez’s essay read.
At 10 years old, Juarez writes as if he had already lived a few decades, but it is not a question of years. It’s the experiences.
“She eats whatever she finds in the fridge, and if there’s something I like, she leaves it for me and my siblings,” Juarez writes.
Juarez took his experiences as the son of a farmhand and turned them into a love letter to his mother.
“The sweat falling off my mother’s brow after a long day in the fields. Clearly the land of opportunity is taking a heavy toll,” Juarez wrote. It’s a price he understands, adding, “Because it’s hard work, paying a fair price to come here.”
The latest economic data shows that the average farm worker is paid between $13.68 and $14.62 per hour.
The essay that Juarez submitted for the contest also proved therapeutic for him. To place second in the competition is a great achievement since he emigrated to the United States just a few years ago without knowing a word of English.
“I had two friends who weren’t really friends, they kept making fun of me because I didn’t know English, so when I said I wanted to be a writer, they laughed from me,” Juarez said.
The award-winning essay proved them wrong, but Juarez now has his sights set on another path.
“When I grow up,” Juarez said, “I just want to help people who don’t have hands or legs or anything, to help them feel normal and not feel left out.”
Juarez is targeting California Polytechnic in San Luis Obispo. Having encountered hard work at a very young age, he knows this is just the beginning for him.
“I’m grateful for what my mom gives me,” Juarez writes. “I thank God for my mother and how good she is. I’m going to show the world that Mexicans and everyone can be good in this world, so if se puede. Yes, we can.”
Aaron Cruz, 15, won first place in the art category for the Children in the Fields campaign. Cruz also uses his art to reflect his experiences as a child of farmhands.
“The reason I put a dad there is to show — or, like, a parent — is to show that farm worker parents are very supportive of their kids,” Cruz said.
It’s a drawing that means more than just the award given to Cruz. He was very close to not participating in a competition piece at all. His father died at the start of the competition.
“If he was there, I know he would have told me to do it,” Cruz said. “Always try. Even if you don’t think you’ll win, at least try.
Cruz tells 23ABC that he stayed up all night finishing his contest entry, thinking about the times when both his parents worked from sunrise to sunset just to provide and he didn’t fully understand it.
But he quickly understood why his parents had been out all day.
“We don’t have enough money for the bills, and then I see why they’ve been around for so long,” Cruz said. “To support the family.”
Working in the fields is work that Cruz says people who don’t experience it just can’t understand.
“They’re judged very harshly, and they work hard to feed our nation,” Cruz said, adding that sometimes those judgmental words make him feel less worthy, “But then at some point you feel really proud. to be a child of agricultural workers.”
And it’s linked to his parents’ love for him.
“That’s why he carries it on his shoulder, then the basket”, explained Cruz, “he helps the child in his education”.
Cruz says he hopes to take the next steps in his own education at Cal Poly Pomona. He says his parents both gave up a lot so he would have more opportunities, and pursuing higher education is a way to honor that.