“When I was 10, I started working in the fields with my dad harvesting coffee. I would do that with him every summer and when I finished the coffee harvest, I went back to school. When I was 14, I went to another part of my state to harvest chayotes (a type of squash that is very common in Mexico) during the summer break. A bunch of us stayed in the same house and I slept in the same bed as my dad. Most people there were families. Some wives came and they were the ones that made the food on top of working as well.
The vines of the chayote plant grew up on a trellis and we harvested from underneath. One person would cut the leaves to make sure everything stayed clean. The others would be harvesting, making sure they chose the ones that were just right (not too little and unripe nor too mature). We harvested 350-400 boxes per day. I worked there for two seasons and during the second summer, my dad only worked there for a short time and then went back home while I continued to work.
At the end of that summer, there was a guy working there that was about 21 years old and he said, “Why don’t you come to Mexico City with me?” I told him that I didn’t know the city at all and asked him what kind of work there was. He said I could work in construction. We went there and I started working a lot of hours from the age of 15 or 16. While I was there, I got to know a friend and she asked me, “Where do you work and how much do you make?” I told her I make 100 pesos per week. She said, “Why don’t you come work for this business called Yakult?” The job was to go door to door and sell containers of yogurt to different businesses and houses. I told her I never did anything like that but she said I could learn no problem and that I would have the chance to earn more. They welcomed me warmly and said we know you’ll have a lot of success. The work itself was much less difficult than working outside in the sun.
On the first day, I regretted changing jobs because I barely sold anything, maybe 10 little containers. I said, “Geez, I can’t do this.” Regardless, I decided to give it a go the next day and little by little, I started selling a few more containers. However, my first check was only 70 pesos for a two week period (at that time, it was the equivalent of less than $10). I thought there is no way I can do this, that is so little. My friend and the bosses told me not to get discouraged, that I would gain more and more customers and to keep going with it. After a month, I started selling a lot more and my sales kept going up. I built up my list of clients and began to make triple what I was making in construction. I worked there for 12 years and liked making a better living than before.
I had a friend that was going to North Carolina and when he got there, he kept contacting me to tell him to come join him. I said maybe, but that I was fine where I was because I liked my job. However, the business started making some changes that I didn’t like. They added more people in each sales zone and they gave some of my clients to other people and my salary went down and I started to get discouraged. It seemed that I would keep making less and less if I stayed. I didn’t want that and my friend that had moved to the states kept talking to me about the opportunities to make a decent living and not struggle from day to day. By that time, he was in Wisconsin and I decided to go for it. One of my brothers was also in the states and gave me a lot of encouragement and excitement to go.
That friend that had moved to Wisconsin helped find someone to bring me here and it took me 8 days to get here. When I got here, I thought everything was beautiful, everything was green. I was also thinking, “I don’t speak English, how am I going to figure everything out, how am I going to get to work?” Back then, there were not many people that spoke Spanish and I didn’t know how I was going to learn English or have anyone understand me.
My friend worked on a farm and I asked him what he does there and he said he milks cows and I said okay, let’s try this. At first, I didn’t like it at all, I was not used to the smell and how dirty everything was. My friend said, “Go back to Mexico, this work isn’t for you. If you don’t want to do this, there is no work for you here. I’ll lend you five hundred bucks and you can go back home” That put a fire under me and I said I am not going home. I got a job with another farm. I started working and I didn’t know how to milk, but I learned. The first week, I got a check for three hundred some dollars and that was more than double what I made on my best week of sales in Mexico. I thought: Wow, that’s so good! I worked at that farm for three months.
Then, I had a friend working at Ashley Furniture and I applied. I started working a lot there and making friends and I liked the work there. I worked there for four years and I started learning more about the states. From there, I went back to Mexico for 5 months to see my family. When I came back, I started working on different farms again and I didn’t find a permanent job; I was just covering for other people. So, I went back to apply at Ashley, but they did not hire me. Instead, I found a job on a farm in Alma. The owner was great and I worked for him for 6 years until he closed the farm. He was so nice and after he stopped milking cows, he even said I could keep living in the house until I found another job and said I could eat pizza, burritos, pop, whatever I needed until I found work. Such nice people. By luck, I found a job at another farm close by within 3 days. I am still at that farm, four years later. The owners are so nice, they invite us over to eat at their house and they bring us refreshments.
Thank goodness, every boss that I ever had has treated me so well. One boss was so nice to me that she brought me a loaf of bread almost every day and offered to help me buy a car. Not one farmer that has treated me badly. If a boss ever yelled at me, I would say thank you for the job and move on. Getting along with others is important to me so I would tell him I just need a half an hour to move my things out and I will be on my way.
Sometimes things are sad in Mexico and it is hard to live well. Mexico is one of the richest countries in the world resource-wise, but there is corruption in our government. If Mexico was like the United States, I guarantee you that we would not be coming here to work. If we had the chance to earn a good living in Mexico, we would stay there, but to be honest, there is just not a fair distribution of jobs. People have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a good job. For example, if you want to be an engineer; you go to school to get a diploma and then for someone to hire you, they say you need three years of experience at a minimum. You have your diploma in hand, you are licensed to do the work, and any job available demands that you have a certain amount of experience. Where are you going to get that experience if nobody will hire you? Here, in the states, they take people under their wings and show them what to do. In my country, they should say: “Okay, you have your license, great. Let’s work…we’ll teach you.” Unfortunately, it is not that way and things are sad because of it.
All of my countrymen that are here, we want to save money for our grandkids and start a business for the next generation. We want to be very prepared for when we go back. If we don’t save, it will be almost impossible to support our families. If we have been given the opportunity to work here, we need to give it our all.
I miss my mom and that is the main reason I want to return to Mexico. She is getting older and I worry sometimes that she might pass away before I have the chance to see her. I also have a girlfriend in Mexico. We have been together seven years and we have plans to get married. Besides that, I like living here; I like the people, the river, the houses, everything. I am thinking about going back in a year maybe, but for now, I am going to keep working and see what happens.
I would like to tell the young people that come here from Mexico to come here to work and not come here to waste time. The bad behavior of one person reflects bad on all of us. I tell all the younger guys that come here to work to save money and support their wives and kids; the future is for your kids and grandkids. We need to take advantage of this opportunity and all put our best foot forward. We benefit from being able to create better lives for ourselves and our families, but the employers also benefit from having good workers. Every job I have had, people have paid me well and on time and more than that, they value the work I do so much. We say this is the American Dream and it’s the truth.
I don’t know what the future holds, but maybe one day, I would like to be the mayor of my small village and if I get lucky enough to do that, I will work hard to help make my village a better place little by little. For example, I would try to make sure the hospital has the best doctors and workers so my people can be taken care of well and that the schools have the best teachers so the kids can get the best education. It would be a great way to give back to the community when I go home.