I spent much of my life working on the US/Mexican border. Twenty years ago this month I would spend my mornings growing lettuce in Yuma, Arizona, my afternoons farming cherry tomatoes right over the border in San Luis Rio Colorado and my evenings back in Yuma, repacking tomatoes that came up each day from our farm in Sinaloa.
Feeding America its vegetables was a joint venture between two nations and two people. This picture here was a few years earlier in El Centro, California. That year one of the fields I farmed in Holtville was literally on the south side of the border. The fence, which was there at the time, took a detour around it, with both sides agreeing it should stay in the hands of the American family that farmed it with the help of his Mexican workers.
For years my workers in Salinas Valley and the Central Valley would travel freely home each year after the harvest was done, eager to get back to the family, the pueblo and the weeks of holiday festivities. If they finished the year in good standing they went home wearing a nice company jacket and a letter from me saying there was a job waiting for them when they came back in the spring. Over time, things changed. It became so costly and dangerous to cross the border that those on this side stopped going home. Men with wives and young children in Mexico drifted away and found new women and lives here.
Then there was the time around 1999, when I was farming full-time in Mexico, and a woman literally threw herself at me, begging that I keep her husband employed all winter or he would have to go north and leave her and their six young children. As much as I tried, I could not employ everyone who needed it. She came back a month later, asking if I could pay to bring home his body; he had died on the long trek through the desert.
I am not writing here to argue, or start an argument, about immigration or building a wall. I would have to write a much longer piece than this to explain just some of its complexities. But I do know that the people from Mexico that worked for me on both sides of the border were the kindest, noblest, hardest working people one could ever meet and none of us would have what we have on our plates tonight without them.
January 25, 2017