A thousand words beyond the Hill

Nina Greipel

El Camino de Micaela

Micaela Pablo Sanchez stands among Mexican migrants picking tobacco. She is a small woman, no more than 5 feet tall, but she works harder than many of her male co-workers.

Micaela, 45, came to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico, with her husband 3 1/2 years ago. Oaxaca is one of the country’s most impoverished regions. Her third-grade education is typical for the daughter of a subsistence farmer. It takes her 15 minutes to write several sentences that anyone with a high school education could write in far less time. But what she lacks in education she makes up in determination.

Micaela has picked pumpkins in North Carolina and harvested corn in Indiana. In early October she worked on tobacco farms in Barren County on her way to the orange groves of Florida.

She has no car, no home, not even a suitcase. She catches rides with fellow crew members to go from place to place and stays in houses provided by the farmers who hire her. She stores her meager belongings in plastic bags.

Micaela can make up to $300 a week, says Ruben Bautista, the man responsible for arranging work between farmers and laborers. Most of that money goes to her three boys and six girls who still live in Oaxaca.

Micaela leads a hard, lonely life to work a job that doesn’t pay much money.

“You have to carry on with your strength and you have to have ability and patience to walk alone,” she said in Spanish.