Voices of America's Trabajadores Golondrinas

Photo by Alex Proimos.

THE AMERICAN DREAM can be defined by comfort. The point is to settle into a community, get an impressive job and an equally impressive partner, buy a house with a manicured lawn and a nice back deck, and produce some children who will strive for all these same things. While many spend their lives chasing this familiar image of stability, many others find their livelihood chasing the instability of changing seasons and the varying harvests of America that go along with them.

In Spanish they’re called trabajadores golondrinas because, like migratory sparrows, they find new homes in the alternating locations of their work. They arrive to harvest a crop; when the harvest is over they migrate to the next opportunity.

But in America, we call them “migrant laborers.” We define each of them as individuals who are “required to be absent from a permanent place of residence for the purpose of seeking employment in agricultural work.”

In reality they are travelers, impossibly hard workers, and loving mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters making their way through the harvest streams of this country in order to earn their livelihood.

According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, most migrant laborers are minorities, with 83% being Hispanic and having roots in Mexico or Central or South America. The remaining population is split among Jamaicans, Haitians, African Americans, and other racial ethnic groups. Many travel as married couples, bringing their children and often even grandparents and extended family members with them along their chosen harvest path.

Due to the rural locations of their work, migrant laborers often face poverty, low wages, poor health, and dangerous working conditions, causing farm work to be ranked as the second most dangerous occupation in the United States, right behind mining. They’re exposed to pesticides and chemicals used in the fields, aggressive labor, and long hours, all for wages so low most Americans wouldn’t consider it an option. [read more]