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.
For a person to be stooped or arched over (“stooped steep” as people would say with a touch of ironic humor) while hoeing with a hoe that has a ten- or twelve-inch handle for as long as eight, ten, or even twelve hours a day is how I would define the word torture…. It was a punishing way to make a living.