This is a followup to The Past pt. 1. Please, visit that post before reading on. Also, this is a bit lengthier than my previous posts. I believe the details are necessary to convey more of my origin story.
Once we were in Chicago in May of 1999, my mom and I had to wait for my dad to finish up his final tour in North Carolina as a contract field worker. His contract work went from May until October.
Before my dad became a father he was in his final semesters to finish a technical degree as an electrician. He couldn’t manage paying tuition, books, and sustaining his new family so he didn’t get to finish. He still managed to get some construction jobs as an apprentice electrician every now and then but it was not a reliable source of income and other jobs didn’t pay enough to get our family by.
In 1996 when he heard of contract work in the US from a family member my dad decided to sign up. I don’t believe he truly understood what he had signed up for, but I know that his determination to provide a good life for his family was the driving factor.
My dad had no idea where he was going, how to speak the language, or who he would be with. He ended up having to live in a small, old communal home with up to 15 other individuals that were also doing field contract work.
Remember that I said it was from May to October? The house had no AC. Imagine living almost on top of one another without AC during the summer in North Carolina where average temperatures for June, July, and August are +90°F.
My dad’s workday consisted of 10+ hours a day of intense labor. He would wake up around 3 am to go in at 4 am and work until around 2 pm. About 13 people would carpool in a passenger van, also with no AC, to and from work. Their passenger was also their means of transportation to the local grocery store once a week.
Work was brutal. He has shared stories about how a lot of the day they would be hunched over to cut the tobacco leaves which led to him and others having back pain. The constant exposure to the plant pesticides would cause some people to get sick throughout the 6 month periods of work and there was always a constant fear of being bitten by a snake. One of the men he knew during his time as a field worker was unfortunately bitten by a snake.
He tells me how sad he felt at times. He missed his family and would be dreadfully homesick.The only thing that brought him happiness was the thought of my mom and I having a better life thanks to his hard work. He would live off of the smallest amount of money possible in the US so he could send as much money back to us in Mexico.
His first two years the home they lived in did not have a home phone so he primarily communicated with family in Mexico via handwritten letters. It was a slow communication method with letters taking weeks to come and go. If he wanted to make a call at the local payphone he had to use a rusty old bicycle and ride into the nearest town that was a 40 minute ride away. He was scared of riding his bike on the road. In Mexico, cyclist weren’t really welcomed on the road like in the United States so every time he was on his bike he would stay on the edge of the road like a soldier. Not deviating more than a couple inches from the white line and he would feel that drivers were angry at him for even being on the road when they drove past him.
NOTE: Stay tuned to next week for details on how his time in the US would wrap up and to find out what happened once he finished up his final year in 1999 when he wouldn’t be returning to Mexico.