Valerio worked in the fields of California for thirty-seven years. He knows grapes, plums, strawberries, mangoes, coriander, horseradish and celery like the back of his hand. He has a hard body and a rough soul, like most of the undocumented immigrants in this country.
He is a Tarahumara, originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, but always claims to be a Raramuri. By the time he emigrated, illegal logging in the Sierra Tarahumara had already begun and the marijuana and poppy fields that occupied much of the Western Sierra Madre between Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora and Sinaloa were on the increase.
The harassment suffered by the population and the recruitment to work in the cultivation fields caused many to emigrate in search of work to other states of Mexico and to the United States.
He was the first member of his family to emigrate. Over the years, he was followed by brothers, cousins and citizens. He took them all one by one and made them work in the fields. There are fields where entire villages of his people work.
Of their community, only the generation of parents and grandparents remained; the young people, at the age of 14, run away to escape being killed by the gangs of organized crime that have taken over the territory as a way to transport drugs.
As if the poverty and exclusion they were subjected to millennia ago were not enough, the Raramuri have been forced to move and many environmental defenders have been murdered. Two childhood friends of Valerio are part of the statistics of the disappeared.
On Sundays, when he leaves work, he occasionally goes to some celebration of his people. Valerio then dresses up in his indigenous costume. For him, wearing this outfit at least for a few hours means feeling again the caress of the wind that blows on the heights of the Barrancas del Cobre, it means diving back into the fresh water of the Conchos River and breathing in the smell of pine bark. It is contemplating one’s parents again as young people, sitting by the stove at prayer time.
When Valerio wears his native costume, he forgets that he is in the United States, the chronic pain in his ankles disappears as does his backache and the tips of his fingers stop bleeding. He no longer feels the blisters on the soles of his feet as his spirit returns to the ravines of the hills where he walked as a child.
Suddenly, the smiles of his grandparents appear as in those afternoons when he used to drink kichari made of raw millet and eat tonare, meat prepared during the green corn ceremony. It is then that nostalgia wells up in his chest and he cries like the boy who went to another land, on the other side of the fence.
(Photo:123rf.com) – (Ilka Oliva-Corado)