A Christmas tale of a migrant farm worker

I periodically get the gorilla CSA boxes of vegetables from Marquita Farms and love the culinary exploration that ensures.  An unexpected pleasure are the email musing of Andy Griffin, of Marquita Farms in the form of a weekly newsletter.  The letter I copied below made me appreciate how lucky I am:  I do not have to make hazardous and difficult trips to provide for my family, nor must I leave my homeland to make my living.   

I confess I had not given much thought about how I got the food I eat other that what I have to do to pick up my CSA box or visit my local market.  I certainly never considered it from the perspective of the farm worker, or given gratitude that because they are willing to make this difficult trek and accept wages that most Americans turn down,  we are able to get our  fruits and vegetables at costs far less than we should otherwise pay.  

Miracle on the Road to Oaxaca

Until the Aswan Dam plugged her up, the Nile River flooded every year, spreading her chocolate waters across the land of Egypt, and depositing the rich sediment of eroded topsoil from the heart of Africa, to fuel another year’s productivity in the fields.

 As regular as the Nile’s rising waters, a seasonal flow of migrant Mexican farm workers heads south from the States, going home for the Christmas holidays. Like the Nile, they carry with them a load of riches to deposit from one end of Mexico to the other. Pick-up trucks and TV sets, kitchen appliances and talking baby dolls, chainsaws, mattresses and blow driers— anything that is more expensive to obtain in Mexico than here, will end up riding the river of people back home.

This yearly tide of travelers has spawned a parasite class of thieves, extortionists, and pick-pockets, who line the highways home. Crooks are crooks the world over, but among the various rateros who afflict the homecoming Mexican farm workers, the most reprehensible element is the corrupted law enforcement officers of their own government.  Crooked cops and customs police invent a multitude of spontaneous impuestos, multas and cuotas to put an official seal on their bribery and highway robbery.  For migrant farm workers, the border between Mexico and the US, where they pass the under the scrutiny of their own customs officials, may be the highest hurdle to cross on the race home, but it is hardly the last.  Any fly-speck village can be the scene of a crude hold-up, and any innocent action on the road may be a pretext for detention, if some cop thinks he needs more money or a new toaster.
EspanaEspaña, our tractor driver, discussed his upcoming trip before he loaded up his two pick-up trucks with his sisters and his accumulated wealth of household items and tools.  At lunch break, underneath the shade of the elderberry trees, everyone had stories to trade about the trips home they’d made in years past. I heard the joy of homecoming, mixed with trepidation for what may be lost. Everybody on the crew had a war story about a trip home, but maybe because he was the one going home next, España’s story of a previous return was the best.

 Eight years ago, when he’d last returned to Oaxaca, España had a little Datsun pickup truck.  

“Oh yes,” everybody remembered the pick-up truck; “small, brown, a little beat-up, but with a decent motor.”

Eight years ago he was returning without much money, because it had cost him so much to live back when he was migrant, always moving from ranch to ranch.

“Oh yes,” murmured the other guys like a Greek chorus, as they ate their tacos, and drank their soup.  “Not much money, but still more than if you’d stayed in Oaxaca…”

 España was on his way home, still in Sonora crossing the desert, just south of San Luis Rio Colorado, when a highway patrolman pulled him over.
At this point there was a general rumble, heads nodded, and someone stopped chewing long enough to pronounce the verdict: “pinche parasito.”

The officer approached the pickup truck, eyeing the vehicle’s California license plates from behind his insect eye, aviator sunglasses. He bent over to speak through the window. “Señor Indio,” he announced, “You have been driving in a manner threatening to the safety of the Republic. “The fine will be $200 dollars.”

The taco eaters scoffed with contempt.

“…in twenties.”

There was a roar of outrage. Jose passed around a paper plate of pickled jalapenos. 

España waited for a minute before resuming his narrative. “So I told the patrolman.  ‘Señor Policeman, I don’t have $200. I have barely enough cash to buy the gasoline to get me to Oaxaca City.’” The officer listened with a stone face. He straightened up, pulled a wallet from his pants pocket— a wallet gorged with money— and he pulled out a crisp twenty dollar bill.

“Señor Oaxaquito,” said the officer, “Better that I give you some money,” and handed España the bank note.

Everybody cried out in disbelief, “Impossible!” “Increible!” “A miracle!”

 “Ho-ho-ho,” Don Gerardo said. “España must have met the Mexican Santa Claus.”

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2 comments for “A Christmas tale of a migrant farm worker

  1. December 28, 2008 at 5:43 AM

    How can I contact you? I just discovered your blog. May I thank you and request you put some more “contact me” info on your “about” page?

    I too am a huge fan of oysters. Actually, my birthday is this week and my one request is for my husband to take me out for oysters!

    Have you seen Rowan Jacobsen’s Geography of Oysters? Must read. Great site, too.

    I hope you’ll stop by my site, click around and visit. You can bookmark, add me to your feed and sign up for my monthly newsletter so you’ll never miss a hot topic.

    I’m with you on food and travel. I love Mexico too, have not yet made it to Oaxaca – what a lovely story!

    Jacqueline Church
    The Leather District Gourmet

  2. oysterculture
    December 28, 2008 at 3:42 PM

    Hi Jacqueline,

    Thanks so much for stopping by. As you might have guessed, I’m new to the blogging, and working my way through the features. I checked out your site and will definitely bookmark it and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

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