Farmworker children are eligible to submit essays or artwork to our contest as soon as they turn 10, and can continue to do so until they turn 19. There is no limit on the number of times they can win – evidenced by our 5-time winner, Norman Gonzalez, who won the art category starting in 2015 and then four times consecutively after that. But Ms. Emily Camacho is the first contestant in this Art & Essay contest’s history who has win 1st place as soon as she was eligible to enter (age 10), and then came back to win again the following year.
Emily heard about our contest through her oldest sister, Mireya, who participated in the National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start internship program in 2018. AFOP works in close proximity with NMSHSA, so we had the opportunity to get to know Mireya and interview her. When Mireya passed the word along to her family about submitting entries, Emily decided she wanted to give it a shot.
Ultimately, hers was the only essay that all the judges unanimously voted on for first place. Here’s an excerpt:
“I was born into this life from the beginning and have been a part of it since. … Being a part of a farmworking family is learning to accept what you do have rather than wishing for what you don’t. It is getting your electricity shut off because harvest is bad. It’s a family of 5 co-sleeping and piling on layers of clothing because you can’t afford to have the heater on during the winter months when neither of your parents work. It’s somehow learning how to hustle the struggle but never realizing it because your struggle is actually your normal, a normal that is not normal for everyone else.” – Emily Camacho, 2018
The Camachos hail from Washington state, which specializes in many different agricultural products such as apples, cherries, grapes, pears, and more. Emily has lived in the state her entire life. In her essay, she says that she was introduced to the fields when she was just 3 weeks old, and that her two older sisters took care of her while their parents thinned apple trees. Mireya, the oldest sibling, says that the common practice is to “flip over an apple bin when thinning, put [a child] in there with a blanket and a doll, some crackers.” The older siblings keep an eye and “make sure they don’t get into trouble.” When asked about childcare options, Mireya described the situation: Quincy, WA, is such a small town that there are a limited number of babysitters. Weekends are double the cost – so, it’s “very common” to have kids in the field.
Children in the Fields Campaign strives to educate the public and farmworker families that, when kids are in the fields, they’re subjected to the same dangers as their parents. But they do it at an even higher risk, as kids do not know how, and in fact are unable, to keep themselves safe. Mireya described the sprinklers that some farm managers would turn on to force the farmworkers to stop working. “You know those sprinklers are used for more than just water…?” I asked – meaning, the water will probably be laced with pesticide residues. Mireya responded that, yes – she knows this now. “But the manager says, ‘You have to go, it’s Sunday.’ But no one wants to leave. The line is so good, there’s so much fruit! When they’re working on Sunday, they want to work all day. The last threat is, they turn on the sprinklers. ..It’s dangerous because [farmworkers] are gonna slip, and they’re getting wet overall. [My parents] ask us to help, saying, ‘I just gotta fill up this bin.’” Obviously, Emily and her sisters were being exposed to chemical and other occupational hazards long before they were of legal age to work.
The effect of pesticides is hard to determine, enough that farmworkers are able to shrug off their fears and work in fields covered in a suspicious white film – never having been informed by their manager that the field had been sprayed the night before, but able to deduce that it probably had. Some contestants’ parents have even boasted about how they have become “immune” to pesticides after years spent working in the fields. But Emily and Mireya knew better.
“My mom would lose her voice periodically – the doctor said, it might be cancer. You might be allergic to pollen or grass. It happened during the spring and it would stop in October, during harvest. She was taking allergy medicine and that kinda helped a little bit, and then when she started working at organic farms, it stopped. So her face cleared up and she hasn’t dealt with the loss of her voice again. It was because of the chemicals they were spraying.” – Mireya
Hopefully one day these pesticides will be outlawed, children can play outside safely, and they won’t be compelled to work years before they should, hindering their emotional, physical, and mental development. Maybe Emily herself will have a hand in determining that! In her second essay, she says, “As I work on accomplishing my dreams while working in the fields, I daydream of the day I become a doctor and reach the freedom my parents have so long sacrificed for in the fields. I know the day will come where I will turn back in my white coat and admire the fields around me, knowing I am a product of those fields.”
Obviously, Emily’s second essay was just as well-written as her first, winning top prize in the 10-13 essay category this year yet again. When we posted it CIFC social media, one follower commented, “So eloquent and moving! Ms. Camacho is already someone!”
We couldn’t agree more.
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