Federico is one of the approximately 100,000 farmworkers working in North Carolina this harvest season. Every year, individuals like Federico put everything on the line and migrate from Mexico and Central America to North Carolina to work the tobacco harvest season. Expanding from early July to late September, the tobacco harvest season not only brings a lot of migrant workers to the state, but also lots of revenue. North Carolina-grown tobacco accounts for over half of the total U.S. production, making tobacco the most profitable cash-crop in the state of North Carolina. Companies like Reynolds American, Altria Group, and Lorillard, collectively known as “The Big Three,” hold nearly 90% of the tobacco market share in the US, profiting from the hard labor performed by workers like Federico.
While tobacco brings in approximately $770 million dollars to North Carolina according to the USDA, workers like Federico do not see much of that money. After being recruited and gathered at the US consulates in Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, migrant farmworkers are transported 1,600 miles to their work camps by way of overcrowded buses. With little stops and much less spending money on hand, workers must endure the travel and the uncertainty of not knowing their final destination. The reward: A promise of housing and a weekly paycheck for three months. Federico has made the arduous journey five times now, each time getting it a little harder because of his age.
“I do it because back in Mexico things are not well…There’s no jobs, crime is up…and I have a family to feed, children to send to school…I do it for them,” explained Federico. Continue reading Antonio Castañon: “In this life one must fight for things to improve”