By: Jennie Wilburn
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a Mexican holiday to remember family members who have passed away and to celebrate their lives. It is associated with the religious holidays All Saints’ Day, November 1, and All Souls' Day, November 2, and should not be confused with Halloween. It is particularly relevant for farm workers due to the fact that farm work is dangerous, with two deaths occurring in North Carolina fields just last year. Since about three quarters of North Carolina’s migrant workers are of Mexican descent, this holiday is important as a time to remember those who have died doing farm work. As these deaths often occur in rural, isolated areas, they frequently go unreported and thus unrecognized.
To remember those farmworkers whose deaths may have been ignored or overlooked, I have written a calavera in their honor. The Spanish word “calavera” means skull, but for Dia de los Muertos the word takes on different meanings. Most commonly, it refers to the brightly decorated sugar skulls that are eaten as treats. Similarly, calaveras can refer to short, witty poems written to criticize a social situation or person, usually aimed at politicians or celebrities. In recognition of Dia de los Muertos, I have written a calavera in honor of farmworkers who have lost their lives doing their job. My goal, however, is not to be satirical or political, but rather to follow in the Day of the Dead tradition of reminding us that the actions of the living can have fatal consequences and that life, death and labor are inseparable parts of our human existence.
Cruzaste la frontera, el primer gran labor,
Para empezar una nueva vida con tu sangre y sudor.
Te dieron muchas promesas
Pero encontraste sufrimiento entre los pepinos y las fresas.
Duro es el labor
Fuerte es el calor
Desde 2005 cinco se han muerto de la insolación
Y para sus familias no hay consolación.
Por Buenaventura Cortez Martínez, quien murió temprano,
Perdió su vida y su cuerpo humano
En una cosechadora de tabaco
Para que otros ganaran dinero en el saco.
Estas son las personas que cultivan nuestro trigo
Pero viven y trabajan en los campos de peligro
Cultivan y siembran casi todas nuestras comidas
Pero no escuchamos nada de sus vidas abolidas.
Ya viene la Santa Muerte con su hoz
Por el trabajador que no tiene voz
Ellos han trabajado bajo el sol quemándose la piel
Espero que ya entren en la tierra de leche y miel.
En este Día de Todos los Santos
No trato de darte muchos espantos
Sino escribo la verdad
Para honrar a los que satisfacen nuestra necesidad
Y quienes merecen morir llenos de dignidad.
You crossed the border, the first of many a trial and test,
to start a new life by blood and sweat;
You were told many promises, although you were wary,
But all you found was sorrow amidst the cucumbers and strawberries.
The work is hard
The heat bombards
For the five people who since 2005 died of heat stroke
There are no words of comfort for their family that one can evoke.
For Buenaventura Cortez Martínez who died so young,
He lost his life when his body was flung
Into a tobacco harvesting machine;
He paid the price so that profits could be gleaned.
For Mario Andrés Castillo Avena who carried a large load
His tractor one day ran off the road;
He fell and died in a ditch
Allowing Death to carry him off bewitched.
These are the people who harvest our wheat
Who are forced to work in fields of deceit;
They plant and harvest our precious food
But their deaths we ignore and exclude.
Here comes Death with her sickle in hand
For the worker who cannot take a stand,
Those who work whenever it’s rainy or sunny
I hope they now enter the land of milk and honey.
On this Day of All Saints
A gruesome picture I don't mean to paint;
Rather I write with veracity
To honor those people who sow the seeds
And who deserve to die full of dignity.