We demanded, we begged, we guilt-tripped our parents for money. We had reached the age where we cared about our image. We no longer accepted garage sale clothes or Kmart blue-light sale items. We wanted the hip-hugging, sailor-pant flap Chemin de Fer jeans, we wanted the upside-down-U-stitch-on-the-butt Dittos, we wanted the iconic Ralph Lauren polo, and we wanted the clunky Connie Clogs. We wanted the clothes our American middle school classmates strutted around in.
Tender Leaves (2021). Ink, charcoal, and gold leaf on cardboard produce box (52.50 x 62.50 in). Photo by Yubo Dong.
Through my art, I intend to highlight the difficult reality faced by American farmworkers, a workforce essential to American life consisting of men and women almost wholly of insecure immigration status. This status makes them vulnerable to predatory practices from agribusiness. I am a former farmworker myself; after immigrating to the United States from a small community outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, I worked nine seasons in the fields of Eastern Washington state to pay for my undergraduate and graduate degrees.
I seek to honor farmworkers and reveal the difficult working conditions they face. Their portraits and scenes from the fields are executed on found produce boxes. When I nest images of farmworkers amidst the colorful brand names and illustrations of agricultural corporations, I hope to help the viewer make a connection, or a disconnection rather, and start creating consciousness about the people that farm their food.
This piece is an excerpt from The Cemetery Boys, a novel in progress.
Sunday had arrived—Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the Lord thy God—and brought with it a strong exhale that breezed over various labor camp sites of the San Joaquin Valley. Resourceful worshipers set up sanctified spaces and stretched borrowed tarps between sun-scorched oaks to contain the cool shade. The ground was covered in the white grime of harvest dust. The traveling priest presided in front of his truck’s flatbed, renovated to serve as an altar for Catholics, but for anyone, really, who had a righteous belief in divine intervention, joyous faith in a higher power.
This fall, in its 26th issue, Amherst College’s award-winning literary magazine The Common will publish a special portfolio of writing and art from the farmworker and farm laborer community: the migrant, seasonal, and often immigrant laborers who make up much of the US agricultural workforce.
Co-edited by Miguel M. Morales, the portfolio includes work by twenty-seven contributors with roots in this community, most of whom started work in the fields as children. It reflects their diverse experiences—long hours and low pay, protests and picket lines, the fierce resilience of their families, the warmth of their communities, and the satisfaction of doing hard work will, among loved ones.
The Common is a print and online literary journal with a mission to deepen our individual and collective sense of place: to reach from there to here. Since its debut in 2011, The Common has published nearly 1900 emerging and established authors from 53 countries, developed unique workshops and educational programs, and built a local and global community of writers and readers of all ages, all from our office in Frost Library.
On November 9th and 10th, as a part of this mission, we will host two events on the Amherst College campus celebrating our Issue 26 farmworker portfolio and exploring the relationship between its questions of land, migration, and belonging and our home here in Western Massachusetts. Contributors Nora Rodriguez Camagna and Julián David Bañuelos, as well as portfolio co-editor Miguel M. Morales, will be guests at both events.