Tobacco worker struggles to support family

Outside of their home in Santa Ana, Sabina gives a farewell kiss to her husband, Rosalino, on Tuesday, May 5, 2015. It was the last kiss the two shared before Rosalino left, and there won’t be another kiss for nine more months. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Nick Wagner

It’s Cinco de Mayo in Mexico— people fill city streets to capacity, bets are placed on cockfights, supplies of Corona beer run dry in local stores, fireworks light up the Mexican sky and families gather together to remember and celebrate the bravery Mexico displayed when it defeated France at Puebla 153 years ago. However, there’s no fiesta for Rosalino Santiago Garcia. 

While more than 120 million Mexicans celebrate the national holiday, Santiago Garcia, 32, is headed north for his 13th year in Kentucky’s tobacco fields. The 70-hour bus ride displaces him from his 21-year-old wife, Sabina, two sons, Leandro, five, and Josue, two, and 5 month-old baby girl, Elyssia. 

“It’s hard to leave my kids behind… It always makes me sad,” Santiago Garcia said. “But I believe that any human in any job will always put their family first.” 

It wasn’t even three months ago when the last tobacco harvest ended and Santiago Garcia hoped he could skip the next harvest. He wanted to spend time with his young family, but when he returned to his home in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, no work was available or at least at a rate that would support a family of five.

The highest paying job Santiago Garcia encountered paid 150 pesos for 10 hours of work a day— just short of an American dollar per hour— leaving next to nothing after buying the daily necessities of eggs, milk and tortillas.

The difference is apparent to Santiago Garcia what work across the border can provide for one’s life. 

Through the H-2A form, a temporary work visa, he’s garnered enough money to purchase two acres of land, build a new house, buy new appliances and furniture, but most importantly, he has the ability to provide for his children. 

“The work isn’t easy, not everyone can do it… I’m happy knowing I can provide for my parents and my family,” Santiago Garcia said. “But at the same time, it saddens me knowing I can’t see or be with them, so I try not to think of them… It’s the sacrifice I have to make.”