Stories from the field

Rafael and Ricardo

The Story of Rafael and Ricardo

Rafael is a farm worker from Arizona. He works picking grapes every year, driving over five hours from his home. He and his grandson Ricardo live in a van in a store parking lot while they work picking grapes.


We arrived ten days ago, but the harvest hasn’t started yet. My family lives in Arizona. I have a wife and two sons there. I came here to work with my grandson, Ricardo. I’ve been working in the fields for fifty years, almost all of my life. I’m seventy-three years old.

I come here every year to work. In the past I would rent an apartment if my family came with me. Now it’s just my grandson and me, so we stay here, and sleep in this parking lot. It’s uncomfortable. The bathrooms are in very bad condition. They haven’t serviced them in eight days. The showers are very far away too, but it doesn’t bother me as much, because they drive us there and back when we’re done. We cook our food inside the van on a portable stove. I think the growers should provide a place to live since they depend on us to pick their crops. They should have living quarters, at least something more comfortable than this.

Rafael and Ricardo in their van.

During the harvest we’re going to live here, since it’s such a short period of time. I’ll be here about four weeks and then return to Arizona. I won’t have any work there — I’ll just rest — so living in this van I can save money. In Arizona the season doesn’t start up again until September.

Right now the pay is about eight dollars an hour. I haven’t received my first check yet because I’ve only been working two days here. Before this, I was picking tomatoes for 54 cents a bucket. In the past here I’ve earned about $400 a week. I’ve been working for the same foreman for four years now, so I can expect to get work with him. Once the work is done here, he takes the crew elsewhere. I used to following the grape harvest. But it’s been about twenty years since I did that. I don’t feel like it because it’s so far away. After the grape harvest is over here I’m going back home.

The hands of a grape picker.


I’m seventeen years old, and this is my first year working here. Well, it’s all right. It’s not really difficult work. It was hard at first, but I’m used to it now. Being from Arizona, I’m used to the heat, at least somewhat. I’ve only been working in the grapes for two days. My grandfather is teaching me a lot about work. He’s a very hardworking individual. He teaches me and gives me advice. At work I can’t work as fast as he does. I fall behind since he has so much more experience. I admire him because he has accomplished so much. We lived in Mexico, and he arranged for all the required documentation to get us here. Life is better here.


This experience pretty muc how I envisioned it would be, working here with my grandpa and sleeping in the van. But it would be better if they put up apartments for us to live in. It’s hot at night, and hard to sleep. There are a lot of mosquitoes, and the big lights are on all night. In the van we can grill meat on the stove, so we eat ok. But there are very few services here, and the bathrooms are very dirty. The showers are always full, but we all eventually get our turn. At night there are a lot of people here, with a lot of movement, coming and going. You never know what can happen — it’s a bit dangerous. But my grandfather has a lot of experience and knows how to handle himself.

Farmworker picking grapes with noon day temperatures over 110 degrees. Workers wear bandannas in front of their face to avoid breathing the dust.

With the money I earn I’m going to help my mother and save the rest. I’ll be attending college in the fall. It will be my first year. I need one more year of high school, but because I’m advanced in my studies I’m going to graduate early. I think I’ll be done in November. I’m going to be a correctional officer.

So I’m working here in order to save some money for school. I think I’m the only one of my classmates working this summer. I want to have a good job, a career. I look at how hard my grandfather has worked. He tells me to get an education, so I won’t be in the situation he’s in. I don’t want to do field work for the rest of my life because it is very hard work and the pay is low. The work isn’t steady.

Ricardo and Rafael

Both of my parents also work in the fields. They work about seven or eight months every year. I always had a good life. They worked very hard and gave us what they could. They sacrificed a lot for us. Now I’m going to help them out when I work.