By Bianca Pulido
Have you ever been a teenager working in the fields turning grapes into raisins in the summer heat?
My name is Bianca Pulido and I worked in the fields last summer here in Arvin. I can now imagine the huge struggle that field workers go through every day to put food on their table.
While it was not my first job, it was my first experience working in the fields. I began this job the last few days of my junior year. I left school at 2:57 every day, then went home to eat, do some homework, and wait for my mom to get out of her first job.
She is a single mother of 4 girls and she has always been a very hard working lady. At this time she held 2 jobs and neither were easy. One of them was working in the fields and the other was working at Grimmway Farms as a packer. It killed me to see her come home tired every afternoon and have to get ready for her next job.
So one day when she came home I told her, “Sabes que mamá quiero trabajar contigo en la tarde” (You know what mom, I want to work with you in the evenings). She told me to stop speaking nonsense.
I replied, “No really, how hard can it be? I’m just going to pick grapes, right?”
Giving me a knowing look, she finally agreed: “Okay, fine, you want to work in the fields, let’s go then.”
I waited for her outside dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. My mom sent me back inside; that is when I learned that you cannot work in the fields in shorts and a tee shirt, you have to be properly covered from head to toe to protect yourself from the heat and insects. I changed into old jeans, a sweater (in the heat!) and a hat. My mom told me that we go in at 5 in the afternoon and work until the sun goes down.
When we got to the fields my mom gave me a pair of heavy gloves, a tub, some paper and a pair of scissors to cut the grape bunches. She said, “Follow me, we each have our own lane and mine is this way.”
I followed her and when we got to her lane she told me that she would meet me halfway or less down the field. She told me to lay the paper on the bottom of the tub, cut the grapes, and fill up the tub. The grapes go on the paper so the sun can turn them into raisins.
“Okay, that’s easy,” I said.
So there I was, doing my job and smiling. Thirty minutes later, I was still doing my job, however I was not smiling anymore. I was tired, hungry, thirsty, and had to use the ladies room. I sat down because I just wanted to take a break. When I turned around, I could see my mom was still far away, and that she had done a lot of her row. She looked tired but did not sit down. Even though she needed a break, she did not take one.
At that instant I realized that I have the greatest and most hard-working mom in the universe. Even though she is always tired for her work, she keeps going because she wants to give my sisters and me a better life, and we do not see that. We constantly ask her for money as if it grows on trees, and she gives it to us without complaining.
At that moment my mom gave me the strength to keep going. I got up and started cutting grapes again without complaining, because that is exactly what my mother does.
Working in the fields was sweaty. That first day my back ached from bending down to cut the grapes, then bending down again to spread them out on the large brown paper. I am a young teenager, but I can only imagine what it must feel like for an older person. When I was working, there were only about 40 other people in the field, and they all were older than me, mostly their 30s or 40s. I did not see anybody my age.
My mom said that turning grapes into raisins is a much harder job than other field jobs, where you just have to put the produce in boxes. We did not get many hours, maybe 5 hours per day, and we got paid per paper filled with grapes. Every sheet of paper that we filled up was 15 cents. At the end of the week we earned about $80 total for the both of us because we were beginners.
To break up the monotony I usually took my Ipod and listened to music, or I told my mom riddles, which she would never get because they are not as good when you translate them from English to Spanish. The working conditions were harsh because it was hot and there was little water to drink. I did not take lunch because I did not want to eat with sand on my face and other places.
After my first day in the fields I was beyond tired and even went to bed early. The next morning I woke up feeling sore and did not want to go to school, but I knew I had to. At school I was tired and when I got home I did not feel like doing homework, so I got ready for work. My mom came home and we headed out for the grape fields.
This routine lasted for about 2 weeks, until I realized that I could not balance my school life with working in the fields in the evenings. School had to come first.
Working in the fields, even just for a two week period, motivated me to pursue my education with more enthusiasm, because I sure do not want to spend the rest of my life picking grapes in the sun. It was a good experience and I took a lot from it. The hard work taught me about responsibility in more depth.
I had to be responsible enough to get my school work done and be ready to go to work on time, and also had to make sure that my boss was satisfied with the work. Working in the fields is not a stable job: if the boss does not like how you work, then he could easily replace you. Anybody can do your job as there are no educational requirements.
I believe that teenagers should experience working in the fields. This job definitely has a lot to teach. I now know how hard it is to earn money, so every time I want to buy something I think twice about it. I always ask myself, “Do I really need it, or do I just want it?”
Working in the fields was an important learning experience for me, but I would not do it again. I am on my way to college!
Bianca Pulido, 17, is a senior at Arvin High School, she joined South Kern Sol’s youth reporting team in March.