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Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

Personal Essay: “I worked alongside farmers in Fresno this summer. It was an incredible experience”

This personal essay is part of an ongoing series named ‘Exploring Latinidad at SFSU’
PedroGavriel Angeles Diaz
PedroGavriel Angeles Diaz showcases his hands after his first day working in the grape fields. (Courtesy of PedroGavriel Angeles Diaz)

I first started working in the field when I was 14.

Before that though, I had been working as a gardener with my father since I was nine years old. When I first started in the fields, I was picking grapes. Then later on when the pandemic hit, and I was about to turn 16, I started working with a friend of my father who was the foreman of his own crew. This was different as this was the summer of 2020 and the type of fruit we picked were peaches and nectarines, both orange and white. We also picked plums but not very often.

Not only did I get used to this new type of work very quickly, but I also grew to love it, almost more than gardening. The company we worked for was called Moonlight and that’s the company we’ve worked for since. It was a company based out of a Fresno County city named Reedley, where most of our job sites were. There were many other occasions when we would be sent to other places near small towns in Fresno County like Dinuba, Selma, Sanger, Parlier, and Kingsburg. Since these job sites were kind of far from home, I would often have to wake up early, most times at about 3 a.m., to get to the job site in time. We would start at 6 a.m. but we would get there at about 5:30 a.m. in order to set everything up.

I worked with many people who were from many different places. We all lived in Fresno, but most were from different parts of Mexico. Some actually weren’t from Mexico, like myself and a few others who were born here. One coworker of mine, whom I actually became good buddies with, is from Honduras.

Though it wasn’t just where they were from that was interesting, but their life story in general, and how they got to where they would be as a fellow crewmember of mine. For example, there were some of us who had our own sort of nicknames. Mine was “Luis Miguel,” only because I listened to Luis Miguel. One of my other coworkers was given the name “Chupas,” — don’t ask me why. Another person in my crew was called “Juan Gabriel,” even though his name was George.

With the many job sites we worked at, there were many dogs that would wander around the ranch sometimes. The thing I loved about these dogs, besides their cuteness, was how kind and friendly they were. A lot of the time while I was working, one or two would just randomly walk up to me from out of nowhere. I would usually play with them for a quick second since I obviously needed to focus on work. Funny enough though, sometimes the dogs would start following me around for a bit until they eventually walked away. Other times, they would unsurprisingly go up to us while we’d be on our lunch break. No matter what I had or how much food I had on me I would always give them a bit of my lunch, which they always enjoyed. I don’t think I ever saw a ranch dog with a name on its collar, let alone a collar at all. So, over the years, I grew a knack for naming some of the dogs myself. Names like Tucker, Pickles and Skipper were some of many that were given to those dogs. Honestly, it was one of my favorite aspects of the field.

A little bit after I first started, I made a routine that I would do with our ladders before we started our day. I always loved seeing the sunrises in the morning because I could see them a lot better in the countryside than in the city. So, after a bit, I decided I wanted to get a better view of the sunrise. After we would get to the job site, I would go and get a ladder off the trailer that was parked near where we also had our bathrooms. After standing it up, I’d climb all the way to the farthest step I could get to, generally the one before the top. After doing this, I got an amazing view of the sunrise coming up over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Let me tell you, it was such a beautiful sight to see in the morning and to this day I still do it.

In the fields, there were many so-called “rules of thumb” we had in order to make sure we were working up to the standards of the foremen and the supervisors. Many of them had to do with the way we used our ladders, filled our boxes, wore our shoulder straps, and so on. We always made sure to try to never lose or misplace any of these, as it could screw up someone’s day if it happened. My foreman often encouraged our crew to never take off our shoulder straps until the work day was finished because they could get easily lost. Also because he was the one who was accountable for them, so if any got lost we wouldn’t have enough for everyone in the crew.

PedroGavriel Angeles Diaz’s cousin (left) and father cut grapes off the stem of the vine, in August 2018. They then placed the grapes on a cloth on the ground to let dry before they were processed. (Courtesy of PedroGavriel Angeles Diaz)
(PedroGavriel Angeles Diaz)

Everyone had their own preference on how they wore and handled their shoulder straps. I personally liked wearing them at a longer length since this made it easier to take out the hooks when taking them to the trailer. Other people wore it really tight and sometimes up to their chest. Sometimes people would even hook their boxes inwards instead of outwards, I often had mine inwards.

Over time, I was taught about different methods that people used and then I would use those same methods myself. Things like learning to pick with both your hands so you’d be quicker. Another one was to position the ladder a specific way in order to be able to pick large portions of the trees at once. Each and every detail had a purpose. Some of the things my foreman taught me came in handy the most. He explained that I should pick the tree starting from the top of the branch and work toward the bottom. The reason for doing this was to make sure I didn’t tire myself out when going up and down the ladder. If I were to pick from the bottom and go to the top, then I would have to carry a heavy box up the ladder, and this was something that could strain my energy and really kill my shoulders.

Crews in the fields I worked in were made up of about 12 to 20 people in a crew. Twenty, not including the foreman, was the maximum and 12 was the minimum. The reason we would need a minimum of 12 people in a crew was because on a regular day, we would do six rows. One person goes on each side of a row. Of course, we would need someone to drive the tractor so that would be 13 people. Our tractor guy was responsible for a lot. Not only did he need to move the tractor, but made sure that the boxes were stacked correctly and not overfilled. He would be responsible for breaking open the trailer so people could take it out and put it in boxes, and then close up the trailer so it could be loaded and taken to packing houses.

Of course, there would be times when our tractor guy, or tractorista, would often need help or need someone to watch the trailer every now and then. That’s where I ended up coming in this recent summer. I was finally an adult and I wanted to take on a bigger responsibility and do something a bit different than just picking.

So, when I started work again this summer, I decided to help out the tractor guy a bit every now and then. This was something I would do without even being asked. It started off with me stacking a few boxes, pushing them into the pallet, or taking the empty ones out for people. Sometimes people would even hand me their boxes and I would stack it for them. I would continue to do this more often without being asked for a few weeks.

After a while, our tractor guy named Mike started to ask me to stay at the trailer and help him out a bit. So that’s what I would do.
Mike usually asked for my help whenever we had a rush of workers handing in their filled boxes and he couldn’t cover both sides. To help out, I would go and stack on the opposite side of the trailer hitched to the tractor. Other times was because he would need to go bring a new trailer and I stayed behind to take care of the filled trailer. After a while, I was tasked with opening up the new trailers that would be brought when the first one was starting to get full.

Eventually, I decided that I should learn how to drive our tractors if I was helping out with the trailers so often. One day, when my foreman was about to move the trailer, I told him to teach me how to drive it real quick so I could move when no one else could. I learned that it was pretty simple to operate the tractors we use but that I had to be very cautious when operating them. My foreman would heavily advise me to always check both sides before moving forward. On top of that, I was required to always yell out that I was moving forward. I always had to pay very close attention when working around the trailer, even when I wasn’t moving it.

There were many things I had to remember to keep in mind. Things like:
Removing the rack for the electronic devices used to scan and itemize the boxes and water jug before the full trailer is taken to the loading yards
Straightening the pallet boxes correctly so they don’t give us any issues later
Lifting up all the bands that wrap around the full pallets
Taking empty bins to the full trailer because all empty bins have run out
Moving the rack containing the electronic devices to the side that does not have the sun hitting so they don’t overheat
Making sure no over-filled boxes are stacked
Moving the trailer forward when people are right behind it so they may progress further

These were just a handful of things that I had to keep in mind and remember to make sure everything had gone smoothly. Nonetheless working on the trailer was just as hard as picking but honestly, it was also tons of fun. It felt great not only to help out when I was needed but to also do more than picking. Don’t get me wrong I loved to pick, but the rush of working on the trailer was kind of addicting.

There was one occasion when my foreman and I were organizing boxes at the trailer, and he told me how he noticed how much I loved doing this kind of work and honestly, I really did without a doubt. Because of this, he had also told me “Watch when you go back to college and you’re all bored n shit, you’re gonna wish you were back here in the fields instead.” AND HE WAS RIGHT. The first week I moved into my place on campus I started feeling bored. Although I knew that I was just honestly missing the fields and working there, I still miss the fields as of today.

When I first joined the crew in 2020 I didn’t know anyone. Over time, of course, I became close with everyone in the crew. We were all like a family and that’s a unique bond that I don’t think anyone can find anywhere else. The community I found in the fields was a strong and amazing community, and that’s how it is. We treat each other as family and we care for each other. It really makes me proud to be a part of something like this, to be a part of that crew and a part of this job that I knew was essential to society.

Looking back on it now and all the life lessons I learned, one thing I was always told was to work my ass off in school. The first person to tell me something like this was my father on my first day picking grapes when I was 14. What he said was “Work hard in school, so you don’t have to work hard here for the rest of your life.” That was something even my foreman told me himself before I left, because he and everyone else in my crew wanted me to succeed, so that I may progress further in life and have a proper career. I’m glad to have worked in the fields, and I would go back in a heartbeat if I could. Best job I ever had.

My name is PedroGavriel Angeles Diaz. My family calls me Pedro, but everyone else outside my family knows me as Peter. As I am writing this, I am currently a Criminal Justice Major, but I will soon change that to somewhere in the broadcast and electronic communication arts or cinema fields. I am a first-generation university student from Fresno, California. Often you can find me either hanging out at the Latinx Student Center or the Dream Resource Center. This is my second year here at San Francisco State University.

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