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Another Moving Bounty from 'Harvest of Shame'
December 7, 2018  | By TVWW Guest Contributor  | 42 comments

[Editor's note: Edward R. Murrow's 1960 CBS documentary, Harvest of Shame, is a staple of my TV History & Appreciation class at Rowan University. This term, it spurred an inspirational reaction from two of my students, in a blog posted here on TVWW. Amazingly, the same class has generated another unexpected bounty: a reaction from Edgar Aquino Huerta, who lives an amazing double life: farm worker by day, media student by night. His very personal account follows. -DB]

 By Edgar Aquino-Huerta

When Edward R. Murrow exposed the humiliation and poor treatment that migrant workers were facing in their agriculture jobs in 1960, it gave me the confidence to open up about what immigrant workers face today. Many people blame the white race for the bias towards immigrant workers, but in reality, our own people are the enemies...

When you’re given the power to control others, your ambitions become stronger than your humbleness. Coyotes, recruiters, line leaders, and even lawyers are some of the people that take away our hope for the American dream.

Countries such as Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, etc., make their citizens feel unsafe because of their corrupted governments. When their relatives tell them about their experiences on the other side of the wall, they become eager to find a better life in America. When they raise enough money, they then look for a “Coyote.” A coyote is an individual that crosses a group of immigrants to the other side.

When my mother and I crossed the border in 1998, the coyote charged $1,000 per head. Today they charge about $10,000 per head. It was easier to find trustworthy coyotes back in the day, but now it’s hard to find a decent one. It’s always been about the money, and now coyotes are controlled by drug cartels. Lucky immigrants are able to cross the border with no problem, while others have to run for their lives while being attacked by drug lords. The unlucky ones are sometimes taken by drug lords and are turned into slaves, having no choice but to work in the drug industry. Others are just not strong enough to take the heat of the desert and are left for dead. Or the coyotes.

There are some towns where immigrant workers stand in front of a plaza waiting for recruiters to offer jobs. Recruiters are often known as “Los Contratistas,” and a lot of them are infamous for their corruption in the temp agency industry. Contratistas contract people to work, despite their immigration status, and send them to factories, fields, farms, maintenance jobs, etc.

I remember my experience with a Contratista named Freddy, better known as “El Manitas.” El manitas means small hands, and that’s how Freddy was. He was known for his small right hand. He looked like a legit recruiter, but in reality, he was the most corrupt of them all.

I remember being picked up by him in a dirty white van. Those vans are specifically for ten people, but more than twenty people would have to be squished in there. People were picked up house-by-house. I was always used to the farm work, but during fall and winter breaks, all I had available were the factory jobs, which is where Freddy came in the story.

One of my first factory jobs was at an avocado factory. I experienced a number of bad moments during my first weeks there. Since I was raised in America, Hispanics would see me as the enemy only because I spoke English. It would hurt my feelings because my mom raised me to help anybody in need, and when somebody needed assistance, I was there. I would obviously use a fake identity while I worked in my summers, and when I would receive my paychecks, I noticed they were already cashed since there were bills inside my envelope. My mother always taught me to make calculations before receiving my paycheck, and my earnings were less than what I calculated.

Once I confronted El Manitas after my third paycheck, he laid me off because he knew I was starting to suspect his corruption. He would cash everybody’s check at random Mexican stores, and give the workers only a small percentage. Not to mention that he would charge $10 per person for their ride. When others confronted him and many other “Contratistas," they would threaten the workers with calling I.C.E. if they spoke a word -- because, apparently, immigrants had no rights in this country.

Line leaders are considered the backbone of any company because they’re the ones who control the majority of the staff, but in reality, they’re the worst kind of human being you can find. When my mother used to work at a greenhouse, she and her group used to get bullied by their line-leader. Their line-leader was Mexican as well, and ever since she was given the power of supervising, she started treating her people like peasants.

I remember coming home from elementary school, and my mom would call me during her 3 p.m. break. She always sounded so broken and sad. I always understood why, because I would go to work with her during my weekends, and knew how her line-leader treated her.

Imagine watching your own mother being humiliated by someone who has our same skin color. Making all the women cry just because they don’t know English, or because they have no social security. I saw my mother’s face when the line-leader yelled at her. My mom just smiled at me, but I know inside she was going through so much pain. I felt the anger stuck in my throat when I saw the line-leader that I wanted to punch her in her face.

There was a time where the line-leader put too much pressure on my mom to pinch a certain plant, and she stabbed herself with the blade of the knife. I went with my mom to the hospital, and the doctor gave her instructions to take two weeks off work. When she told her line-leader the news, the woman lost it. She told my mom that if she didn’t show up the next day, she was going to lay her off. So my mom went to work the next day and had pains in her knee again. When we took her to the hospital, the doctor yelled at her for not taking a break because her injury opened up. Her line-leader then laid her off, because she was afraid we would speak. Since line-leaders are considered loyal to the owners of the company, and always take their side when a victim opens up about their mistreatment.


[Asked to describe himself for this posting, Edgar wrote the following: -DB]
"Hello. My name is Edgar Aquino-Huerta. I’m a DACA recipient also known as a DREAMer. I’m an RTF major currently in my junior year at Rowan University. My goal is to become a film director, writer, and actor. During the mornings I’m a farm worker, and during my evenings I’m a full-time student. A lot of my art is based on my personal experience, and I hope to inspire many others to not let their circumstances define their dreams. I also hope to become a leader like Cesar Chavez, and provide assistance to my people."

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