Written by Olivia Jones
*All names have been changed to protect the individual*
Walking into the home of Ms. Angelica, I quickly smelled the home cooked meal she was preparing for her two school-aged kids. My first reaction was amazement as I sat down and noticed her fragile, rough and shaking hands were the hands of a hardworking woman. Coming from Guatemala she grew up realizing the small tin built homes and outhouses were not acceptable for her growing family. She felt she only had one option- the American Dream.
Her journey started with $5,000.00. Her husband had come to American earlier to try and build a future for her and their kids. When she decided to come here, he helped pay her way. To come up with the rest of the money was a struggle but she persevered thinking she was making the right decision for everyone. Angelica paid a coyote the $5,000.00 and made her way to America. When asked what she had to go through to get here, she sighed and lowered her head, “I was lucky. No one messed with me. I saw violence though. Some women were degraded or raped just because of the way they looked or if they were short on money. I was nervous, but we understood that sometimes that happens if we really want to be free in America.” She stopped after that to taste the food she was cooking, politely offered me some, and sat back down.
She told me that once she got to America she made a life with her husbandand three kids at the time. She worked every day in the fields to provide for her family. Angelica picked in almost every field in Sampson County, including tobacco, cucumbers, blueberries, and sweet potatoes just to name a few. She described working in the fields during the summer as extremely hot. Waking up at 5am every morning, she had to be at the fields by 6am. Sometimes she would have to work until 9:00 at night before she would get to go home. “The field workers didn’t have a set time to get off. If the farmer wasn’t happy, you didn’t leave until he was. I had to leave early one day because my daughter was sick. I told the farmer and he fired me on the spot. That was my only source of income, but he didn’t care,” she stated.
A few years after being here her husband left her and her then 5 kids. She was devastated but Angelica went back to the fields of North Carolina. It was only the work she knew she could get a job in quickly. I asked about the pay and her response was jaw dropping. The farmers paid her $5.25, which was below minimum wage and sometimes only 40 cents per bucket of blueberries or cucumbers. There was no way she could support herself and her children with that amount of money. Sometimes she couldn’t pay rent or provide food for her family, she was stuck with no other options. I was curious to know about their working conditions, so I asked her, not really knowing what to expect. She told me the farmers rarely gave bathroom breaks. If there was less than five workers in the fields the farmer didn’t supply a bathroom at all. She explained, “The farmer would give us dirty water. There would be bugs or black stuff floating in the water, and we all had to share the same cup if we wanted to drink some. They didn’t care about us, they only cared about their crops.” Not only did they not provide bathrooms or clean water, but when she worked in the factories topping tobacco, they didn’t provide them with protective gear while spraying harmful chemicals. She had to go to the hospital once because the chemicals gave her a fungus, but the farmer didn’t pay for any expenses.
By the end of our conversation I only had one more question for her. “What she had thought the ‘American Dream’ was going to be like before she came to America?” Her answer was, “A good life. A better life for my family and opportunities for my children that I didn’t have in my country. Work and money to provide for the ones I loved.” I then asked what she thought about the “American Dream” now. Her only reply was, “I want to go back to my country; even with no money.” She didn’t say much else after that. Anyone could look at her and notice that America hadn’t been much of a dream for her. I thanked her for her time and began making my way out of her home with only one thought in mind, if they call it the “American Dream,” then why do so many people come here and have their dreams broken?