My name is Ernestina and I am from Michoacán, Mexico. I have been working in the fields since 1993. My father died that year and I came to the US to help my mother because we didn’t have water or light or even anything to eat. I got married in 1996 and I wanted to have a family and have a happy home. But unfortunately, my marriage fell apart because my ex-husband is an alcoholic and he beat me. I had four children with him. My life has been very difficult because I’m responsible for the four children, helping them grow up.
Ann Lopez, who organized a farmworker rights group, introduced me to an attorney, who helped me get a U visa. I now have permission to work in this country.
Two of my youngest children, ages 12 and 7, both have ADHD. I had to work in the fields while I was pregnant with them and was exposed to pesticides, in particular Chlorpyrifos. I hardly know a farm worker family where the women have worked in the field and the children don’t have learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, all of these, because it damages the brain of the unborn child. My two youngest children have severe learning disabilities partly for that reason.
Chlorpyrifos is brain damaging. It’s also an organophosphate and if a woman is exposed to an organophosphate pesticide within a kilometer while she’s pregnant, then her children will have lower intelligence. And then when the children go to the surrounding schools and all of these organophosphates, many of them vaporize, go right into the school and continue damaging the brain. It’s disgraceful and makes me very angry.
I have been affected by the past administration immigration politics. I worry because I’ve seen other women where I work and they’re fearful of going home and picking up their children. Our work is really hard because we have to go work even when it’s really, really hot or when it’s really, really cold. We just have to have work. And besides that, the rent is so high. My month’s paycheck covers the rent for this house and leaves me $200 for everything else.
We have to pay from our meager earnings the utilities, car insurance, food, telephone and all the other various expenses. I have to have a telephone with me at work because often times, the school will call me and tell me the kids are acting up and then I have to go and pick them up. I have to take them to counseling, to a psychologist, and we have to buy medicine for them. I have had mothers with children living with me and I can really see how we mothers worry about our children.
Where I work, somebody mentioned that ICE was going to come and I watched as everybody looked horrified and I realized that I’m lucky to have a visa. My coworkers live in constant fear that immigration is going to come and knock on their door and destroy their family.
All the time I’ve been working, I’ve worked in picking strawberries and picking apples and blueberries, to bring in the harvest from the fields. I’ve also cleaned houses. I pay all my taxes. My children are all studying. I would like to see less racism in this country.