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Immigrant farmers talk to UNC students

Guilllermina Garcia a member of Mujeres sin Fronteras, speaks Wednesday night to students. DTH/Lauren Vied
Guilllermina Garcia a member of Mujeres sin Fronteras, speaks Wednesday night to students. DTH/Lauren Vied

Life as an immigrant farmworker can be difficult, to say the least.

A group of undocumented immigrants confirmed that statement when they spoke in front of a crowd of about 40 students Wednesday evening about their experiences working on American farms.

“We try to go out to farmworker camps in the fall and hear their stories,” said Rachael Mossey, the co-chairwoman of Alianza, the group that hosted the event for National Farmworker Awareness Week.

Six women from Lenoir County formed the group Mujeres Sin Fronteras (Women without Borders) in 2009 to raise awareness about farm conditions for illegal immigrants. One of the women, Guillermina, who did not give her last name, spoke to the audience through an interpreter.

“There are so many things that I want to share with you, and hopefully one of them will reach your hearts,” she said. “I came to the U.S. with a lot of dreams that are unfulfilled. Even though these dreams haven’t been fulfilled, I and many others have learned how to survive.”

Guillermina said she came to America “just like any other immigrant, walking across the border.” She and her family sold their house, their property and almost everything they owned in Mexico to come here, thinking that they would have a better life, she said.

“But it hasn’t been like that and it still isn’t like that,” Guillermina said. “We often do the hardest work — not only for us but also for our children. There are often children between 12 and 13 years old working.”

She said this kind of life can kill hopes of attaining the American dream.

“We work from sunrise to sundown; it’s very hard work,” she said. “A lot of times the kids grow up thinking they don’t have to go to school anymore, so they start working. That’s where the dream ends.

“Sometimes animals are better off than us. You have to go to the camps in order to believe it. The conditions are horrible, everything’s dirty; it’s just not a good place to live.”

Mujeres Sin Fronteras built an organic garden in Lenoir County to help needy immigrants feed themselves.

“The reason why we’re making this garden is there’s a lot of hunger,” Guillermina said.

Edgar, a 15-year-old farmworker who only provided his first name, said he has lived in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina since moving to the United States when he was 4 years old. He has worked with blueberries, cabbages and tobacco.

“The work is hard, and it’s hot. I didn’t want to be there but I had to,” he said.

Edgar said he wants to be able to finish school so he can get a normal job. When an audience member asked what Americans can do to help, he laughed and said, “Man, talk to Obama. Give us papers. Give us driving licenses.”

He said life might actually be better in Mexico.

“We wouldn’t have to work in the fields,” he said. “We wouldn’t have to worry about immigration.”

After the event, sophomore Sydney Gross said she hoped for an opportunity to personally see what conditions are like for the farmworkers.

“I’d like to go out to the farm and work with them and see what it’s like,” she said.

“I’m a Latin American studies major, and I’ve been interested in Mexican immigration for a really long time. I think it’s appalling that the animals are treated better than the human beings — probably because they can’t complain.”

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