This summer has been excruciatingly hot. For me that usually means burning myself on the hot leather seats of my car or complaining about the sunburn on my face. For farmworkers, that means another ten to twelve-hour day in 98-degree weather. Has anyone warned them of sun poisoning? The link between overexposure to sun and cancer? Is sunscreen provided? I ask myself these questions as I run to my air-conditioned car to escape the heat. The car’s thermometer reads 100 degrees, my phone buzzes with a heat index warning of 117. I blast the AC, but for the brief two minutes it takes to cool down, I’m drenched in sweat. My face is flushed. In just two minutes I am completely overwhelmed by the heat. My next thought races to the workers who are in the fields, experiencing the same heat but with no opportunity for relief.
These same workers return to their housing in the late evenings, the humidity still clinging to their damp skin. Despite the arduous labor they have just endured, they say, “buenas tardes, pasen por favor.” They invite us into their kitchens, where workers are eating, cracking jokes, or simply enjoying a minute off of their feet. Despite the mundane legal information we are sharing, they give us a listening ear and ask questions. We get around to talking about their contract guarantees, the work conditions, and if time is on our side, we can hear about their families and the difficulties of being apart from them during their 10-month contracts. In their greeting smiles, friendly invitations and curious eyes, I get to experience the warmth and kindness of the workers. Even in the face of injustices and unfulfilled promises, they’re just happy to be here and happy to have us there too. I can’t put a number on how many times I have heard “gracias por estar aquí, por su ayuda.” They’re glad to know that someone is invested in their well-being.
2019 Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) intern
South Carolina Legal Services, Migrant Unit