Every year from April to October, the Sánchez family traveled—crowded in the back of trucks, camping in converted barns, tending and harvesting crops across the breadth of the United States. In 1951, Saúl Sánchez began to contribute to his family’s survival by helping to weed onions in Wind Lake, Wisconsin. He was eight years old. In this excerpt from Rows of Memory: Journeys of a Migrant Sugar-Beet Worker, Sánchez invites us to appreciate the largely unrecognized and poorly rewarded strength and skill of the laborers who harvest the fruits and vegetables we eat.
I write this memoir to leave behind some testimony of a way of life that has disappeared perhaps forever. It is a personal narrative based on experience, taken from memory, and written years after the episodes it narrates. These episodes may not seem exalted or seem like exceptional accomplishments to the reader, but they are to the author. They are exalted because the people who appear here sacrificed a great part of their lives, and in some cases all of their lives, for the benefit of their families. And they are exceptional because it is the narrative of a people who not only survived for years under shocking living conditions but also because of those individuals who appear in these pages managed to triumph in their lives. If we also add the fact that these people spoke Spanish and not English, it is not difficult to understand why they embody those exalted and exceptional qualities that one finds in epics.