A Quiet Day

Translated by Marvin Najarro

She sits down to rest for a while; she has been standing for ten hours with two ten-minute bathroom breaks, and half an hour lunch break. November weather is very cold in New York, these are the days of dressing in three layers of clothes, heavy winter gloves, two pair of socks, and truck driver boots. Nemesia always wears a cap and hat to protect her from the cold and the sun. The kerchief that covers his face she uses it all year round, it helps her somewhat as a protection against sun burns in summer, and cold burns in winter.

She comes and goes between the apple trees furrows on the orchard where she works, the box she carries on her back weights fifty pounds when full of apples, the weight doubles when she has to climb up the ladder to reach the fruits on the tree tops, she is afraid when coming down, since a slip could cost her life.

It hasn’t been long since she arrived in the United States, probably twenty years ago. She arrived just in time for the apple harvesting season and soon found a job on the orchard where she has been working ever since. Nemesia has always believed that she was lucky by not having to wander like most undocumented migrants, who move from job to job, struggling to survive against language and exclusion. Apple picking is a hard job; Nemesia tells her family when she talks with them by video call, but because she does not speak English, it is where she can get a better pay.

In her native San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, she dressed in her traditional indigenous costume; on the apple orchards she wears denim pants. Her Guatemalan clothes are only for special events; what used to be her everyday clothes have become her gala clothing.

Nemesia sits down to rest for a little while, she still has two hours of work left, with her cell phone she takes a picture of the apple boxes stacked alongside the furrows to send it to her family in San Juan Chamelco so they can see the work she is doing. It is with them only that she can speak in her maternal tongue, the Poqomchí. In New York she speaks in Q’eqch’i with those who received her, who are also from San Juan Chamelco. She still does not know how to speak in English because her coworkers don’t speak it either, only Spanish. Nemesia had to cross a desert to learn Spanish.

Each box holds 900 pounds of apples, and for each box a worker earns 20 dollars. Nemesia manages to harvest 7 boxes in her 10 ten hours of work, earning 140 dollars a day for 6,300 pounds of apples picked, that’s on a normal day. If her back could talk, it would tell in full detail what labor exploitation is in the life of an undocumented worker.

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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado

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