Migrant Season Passes through the San Luis Valley

Melissa Grant
Former Volunteer

When I first started as a shelter volunteer, people were always saying to me “Just wait until migrant season.” When we served a big crowd for dinner, when we had a huge pile of laundry, when we had a full house – guests, community members, old volunteers, everyone – joined the “just wait until migrant season” chorus. Their warnings were probably meant to scare me – but they excited me, and I told everyone that.
One Sunday in September, I ate my words as we checked in 30 people in one day. That night, we had 111 people sleeping at the shelter. The harvest brought busy days of cooking and cleaning and trying to keep up.  As the weeks went on, I got to know the migrant workers more and more. Always wanting to help, they put on aprons and went into the kitchen to help with chores as soon as they walked in the door.
One day, one man came home to the shelter with a huge bag of potatoes on his shoulder, singing “papas para La Puente, papas para todos” – potatoes for La Puente, potatoes for everyone.
The female migrant workers taught me and the other girls on staff how to make tortillas and gorditas. They started calling us “mija,” meaning “my daughter” as we asked them about their families and their lives back home. Many of the migrant workers are from Juarez, arguably the most dangerous place in the world right now, an undesirable title that has been coming for years. We listened to tragic stories of violence against their friends and families, and their simple wants and desires for a full and happy life.
One man, I became particularly close with, told his story during an Immigration Awareness Week event at ASC. He told of his personal struggles back in Mexico; a country he cannot return to out of fear for his life.
I teared up as he told the crowd that the volunteers at La Puente are like a family, that he likes it there because he likes being a part of our family, and that it is a place where he feels supported and comforted.
The migrants that stay with us travel long distances each year for the harvest, are away from their spouses and children, and work long days for little pay. Some may be treated poorly at work, or face discrimination. As the weeks went on, they returned home from work later and later, some nights not until 3 a.m., shivering from the chill of autumn in Colorado.
They slept on our floor, under our dining room tables, and resiliently woke the next day to do it all over again. The morning after the harvest ended, the shelter had the distinct feeling of the last day of school.
There was laughter and camaraderie, relief that the hard work was over.
On a beautiful fall morning in October, we got word that everyone had received their checks and would be leaving. I went to the shelter to say goodbye. I shook their hands, thanked them for all they had taught me and all the help they had given me. I wished them well on their journeys. They thanked me for all we’d done for them, and said “see you next year.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that by then, I’ll have moved on. Another town, another job, another adventure. Unlike the migrant farm workers, some of whom have been coming to La Puente for 15 years, I’ll move on to another opportunity.
They are stuck in a cycle that seems impossible to break, the odds are stacked against them and opportunities to improve their quality of life are out of reach.
I hope for them anyway, for their safety, well-being, and happiness.
A group of men stood on the sidewalk while their friend tied their belongings to the roof of a run-down minivan with twine. Their possessions perched precariously on the roof, eight men loaded into the van, headed for Juarez.

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