Documenting migrant farm workers in the Nebraska Panhandle

Maricela Garcia: Cafeteria cook

Photos by Bethany Trueblood

Maricela Garcia started working as a cook for Bridgeport Public Schools three years ago. She does everything from preparing food, to serving students and teachers, to washing trays and wrapping silverware.

Maricela used to work in beet fields and also worked at a sugar factory testing the sugar levels in the beets. She said the work in the fields was hard, but she made a lot of money. The work was very tiring for women, she said; the fields used to be very messy and workers were paid only $50 a day to work one acre for about 12 hours.

Today, Maricela said the fields are much cleaner and field workers now get $80 for eight hours of work. The work is also now less tiring, she said, and workers finish around 2 p.m.

When Maricela and Gaspar worked the fields, she would get up at 3:30 every morning to make lunch for the day. The kids would go to migrant school while she and Gaspar worked. At 4:30 p.m. they would pick up the kids from school and take them to the field where they would wait in the car until Maricela and Gaspar finished working around 9 p.m. On the weekends they took the kids to the field where they sat all day in the car.

When the family returned to their house at 9 p.m., they would shower, clean dishes from lunch, have dinner, and then think about what to take for breakfast the next day. They would go to sleep at 11 p.m. and then start the next day all over again. It was a consistent schedule, which Maricela liked.

Maricela does not enjoy her job much as a school cook, but she needs the work and the income. She said she would like to work in the fields again because it would mean more money; she blames the lack of work on the chemicals farmers use in their fields.

As her kids get older and prepare for college, Maricela would like a better job so that she can financially support her children’s education. She would like to find a job where she can use her psychology degree she received from Mexico; first, though, she plans to take classes to improve her English.

If all goes well with English classes and her job search, the family might stay in Bayard, Neb. They are currently trying to decide whether they should move to Texas where they would be closer to family and where their daughter Sinahi would have better opportunities.

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