"My whole childhood, I never had a bed. In the one-bedroom
rancho where I was born, my apa suspended a wooden box from the
exposed rafters in the ceiling. My ama made a blanket nest for me in
the box. It hung free in the air over my parents' bed, within reach
of both. If I cried, they would swing the box."
I can't imagine a reader with a heart and soul putting down Elva
Trevino Hart's Barefoot Heart. In her earliest years Hart lacked a
lot more than a bed. Her family, for example, still used an outhouse.
In 1953 Hart's family (she was the youngest of six children)
drove with another family from Texas to Minnesota to become migrant
farmworkers. Her father was excited about what he saw as an
opportunity to get ahead financially. Her mother was frantic at the
prospect of moving six children far away from family and friends for
four or five months. It did not help that when they arrived they
learned that all school-age children (all children but Elva) had to
attend school until it ended in June.
"'...I didn't know they would have to go to school! You told me
to pack light. We brought mostly work clothes! The girls only
brought a couple of dresses to wear in case there was an occasional
day off! How can you expect me to dress five children for a month in
a gringo school when we didn't bring anything!...'"
Hart was in for her own rude awakening. After she had watched
her siblings get on the school bus for the first time she saw three
habit-wearing nuns heading toward her temporary home. They offered to
take the children too young to work in the fields for the summer. She
ended up separated from most of her family except for occassional
visits for months at the age of three.
That was only the first of Hart's families immigrant summers in
Minnesota and Wisconsin. She candidly describes the primitive living
conditions which once included living in a stable, the grueling work,
and the other challenges--financial, physical, and psychological faced
by migrant farm workers in the years her family worked the circuit.
Barefoot is a eye opening and poignant book that would be
worthwhile reading for all of us fortunate enough to live in the same
place year round and enjoy luxeries like indoor plumbing and a bed to
sleep in. Sadly, over half a century later, it is still relevant.
On a personal note, my mentor, Silvestre, gave a talk about his
immigrant experience. It was a real eye opener. He had to leave
school and work full time in the fields to help his family at the age
of eleven. There were years he made the dangerous trip to the United
States where anyone who complained of exploitation could be deported.
When he arrived in Maine he had a sixth grade education and very
little English. Now he has a high position at UMaine and is working
on his masters degree. Silvestre is amazing. He is a hero to me. I
am going to wrote his story in the form of a YA book. Si Dios
quiere. (God willing)
A great big shout goes out to Silvestre for not only succeeding, but
doing so with integrity, kindness, and hope.
Sent from my iPod