BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – As we prepare for our Thanksgiving meals, we take time to remember the thousands of farm workers who work from dawn to dusk to make sure you have the food you need. As the children of these farmhands will tell you, it’s a tough job.
Edwin Juarez, one of the essay and art contest winners of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs’ Children in the Fields campaign, understands this very well.
“Let’s just respect Mom because she comes home late. She’s tired, so let’s just clean the house,” Juarez said.
Juarez’s mother is a farm worker. Like other farming parents, she works long hours at a tough and dirty job, but still comes home and takes care of her children, who notice her sacrifices.
“I am proud of my mother for being able to work in the hot sun day after day,” reads Juarez’s essay.
At 10, Juarez is writing as if he’s already lived a few decades, but it’s not about the years. It’s the experiences.
“She eats what she finds in the fridge and if I like something she leaves it for me and my siblings,” Juarez writes.
Juarez has turned his experiences as the son of a farmhand into a love letter to his mother.
“Sweat dripping from my mother’s forehead after a long day in the fields. It is clear that the land of opportunity comes at a heavy price,” Juarez wrote. It’s a price he understands, adding: “Because it’s hard work paying a price just to get here.”
The latest economic data shows that the average farm worker earns between $13.68 and $14.62 an hour.
The essay that Juarez submitted for the competition also proved therapeutic for him. Coming second in the competition is a great achievement as he emigrated to the United States a few years ago without speaking a word of English.
“I had two friends who weren’t really friends, they kept laughing at me because I couldn’t speak English, and when I said I wanted to be a writer, they just laughed at me,” Juarez said.
The winning essay proved them wrong, but Juarez has now taken a different path.
“When I grow up,” Juarez said, “I just want to help people who don’t have hands or legs or anything like that, to make them feel normal and not left out.”
Juarez has his sights set on California Polytechnic in San Luis Obispo. Having encountered hard work from a young age, he knows this is just the beginning for him.
“I am grateful for what my mother gives me,” writes Juarez. “I thank God for my mother and how good she is. I will show the world that Mexicans and everyone else in this world can be good, so sí se puede. Yes we can.”
Aaron Cruz, 15, took first place in the art category for the Children in the Fields campaign. Cruz also uses his art to reflect on his experiences growing up among farm workers.
“The reason I put a father there to show — or like a parent — is to show that parents of farm workers are very supportive of their children,” Cruz said.
It’s a draw that means so much more than just the award for Cruz. He came close to not submitting a piece to the competition at all. His father died when the competition started.
“If he were here, I know he would have told me,” Cruz said. “Always try. Even if you don’t think you’re going to win, at least try.”
Cruz tells 23ABC that he stayed up all night to finish his entry for the competition and thought about the times when both of his parents worked from dawn to dusk just to take care of something and he didn’t fully understood.
But he soon realized why his parents were out all day.
“We don’t have enough money for the bills, and then I understand why they stayed away for so long,” Cruz said. “To take care of the family.”
Working in the fields is a job that people who don’t live it just can’t understand, says Cruz.
“They’re judged really hard and they work really hard to feed our nation,” Cruz said, adding that sometimes those words of judgment make him feel less worthy, “but at some point you feel really proud of being a farmhand’s child.”
And that has to do with his parents’ love for him.
“That’s why he carries it on his shoulder and then the basket,” Cruz explained, “he helps the kid with his upbringing.”
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 could have more opportunities, and pursuing higher education is one way of recognizing that.