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.
Photos L-R courtesy of Manuel Muñoz and Lindsay France/Cornell University.
Acclaimed writers MANUEL MUÑOZ and HELENA MARÍA VIRAMONTES met almost three decades ago: Muñoz was obtaining his MFA in Creative Writing from Cornell University, and Viramontes was his mentor. Many novels and story collections later, the pair are still close friends. They sat down recently to talk, for the first time, specifically about their roots in farmwork. They discussed the poor working conditions and hardships, but also the ways that farmworkers find love and joy in their families. As writers, they connected over the desire to honor the wholeness and complexity of these lives in their work.
Beyond Their Labor: Manuel Muñoz and Helena María Viramontes on Writing the Lives of Farmworkers