This holiday season families across the United States will gather around dinner tables to feast on the fruits provided by thousands of hardworking immigrants whom they will never meet, and probably never come to know.
These farm workers, whose aspirations in life are not unlike those of many Americans, migrate from place to place, taking great care and pride in what they do. They are the “campesinos” — the farm laborers — of the California Central Valley.
Many come from Mexico to the United States under illicit circumstances and find themselves in marginalized communities, yet somehow their kindness knows no bounds. Despite having nearly nothing, they are always willing to offer their time, even to an intruding stranger who comes to them with nothing more than a camera around his neck and the promise to show others how they live and work.
This project has taken me to small rural towns hidden among miles of agricultural fields. One such town, Huron, Calif., will remain the focus of my project. Huron triples in population during lettuce season, and according to the most recent census report, 98 percent of its residents are Hispanic or Latino. With nothing more than a post office and a police station, residents must drive 20 miles to the nearest city to seek medical care or to purchase medicine, because Huron has no pharmacy.
I spoke with César Iban, an almond picker who jabs at trees with a long pole to loosen almonds from its branches. “It looks easy,” he said in Spanish. “But it’s hard work.” He described the pain he feels in his shoulders at the end of an eight-hour day of shaking trees with a five-pound pole.
With the Dorothea Lange grant money, I intend to document further the lives of this community. It’s a story I feel has validity given current debates surrounding immigration. Through photography, I hope to help society empathize with this hidden culture. I will work through the remainder of the spring 2007 semester and publish a multimedia photo essay that will include audio interviews, narration, and a written story.
— Jeremy Rue