Farmworker Women in Western New York

Like many Mexican farmworkers, Olga entered the country illegally several years ago. But unlike the majority of workers, she’d never worked on a farm before; before coming to the US, she worked in a stationery store in Tamaulipas. Her husband had already been working in upstate New York for a couple of years when she decided to join him. She found the work here to be beyond demanding. “I cried for months when I first came here,” she says. “I work in the heat, the sun, the dirt.” One day she saw a young woman crying in the fields and asked her how long she’d been in the US. The woman told her four months and asked how long Olga had been here. “Five years,” she replied. “Don’t worry, when you’re here five years you won’t cry any more.” During planting and harvest season, Olga may work 8 or 10 hours a day, 6 or even 7 days a week Despite that grueling schedule, Olga, like most farmworker women, returns home to cook, clean and care for her children. Her husband would like to help but he works even longer hours than she does. “For women,” says Gloria, another farmworker, “it is like two jobs. Or really more than two jobs.” Every woman photographed was asked, “Vale la pena?” a Spanish phrase meaning, “Is it worth it?” None of them hesitated, answering “Yes.” When asked, “Why?” they all said because it gave their children a chance at a better life.

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