Documenting migrant farm workers in the Nebraska Panhandle


Gaspar Garcia: Truck driver

Photos by Bethany Trueblood

Gaspar Garcia stands in front of the semi he’s been driving for a neighbor while she is ill. Monday through Friday he drives the truck to Sidney, Neb., usually hauling corn. He started driving semi trucks about 13 years ago. When he lived in Mexico, he worked as a bus driver.

Gaspar sits on the bed in the sleeper of the truck he drives. A couple years ago, Gaspar had a work-related accident which temporarily prevented him from truck driving. He has had several appointments with a doctor since then and seems to be improving. He hopes to own a truck of his own soon.


Readying to Leave

Photos by Alex Matzke

The Gomez family once split their time between Mexico and a smattering of states where they worked in agriculture. 2010 was the first time they spent the entire year in Alliance, Nebraska, spurred by the need for their children to have a more consistent educational experience.

A family wedding in Mexico, not a return from migrant labor, was the reason for this trek. The family packed and began a BBQ in anticipation of Eddie—who will stay behind and continue working—to return that evening from driving truck.

Gomez speaks with Santos Jr. (left) before departure. As night fell, Eddie returned and work moved from BBQ to last-minute preparations for the semi-truck.

Mayra Martinez: Garcia family friend

Photos by Bethany Trueblood

Mayra Martinez, a friend of the Garcia family, lives in Bridgeport with her husband Jorge and their three daughters. Like the Garcias, Mayra used to do field work, but she worked more with her parents when she was younger. She and Maricela Garcia used to work for Western Sugar in Bayard, Neb., weighing the trucks with the sugar beets.

Jorge Martinez, left, spends his days working for farmer Mike O’Neil (right). Mayra stays at home with their three young girls and tries to sell purses in her spare time. She hopes that the money she and her husband make will help make a better future for their daughters.

Frida Sophia, youngest of the Martinez girls.

Post-work Rituals

Photos by Alex Matzke

Having an on-truck air compressor is key to refilling tires on the road without having to stop and lose valuable transit time. Here Santos Gomez checks tire pressure adding air where needed.

Gomez unwinds after work Monday night with two of his grandchildren. Large family celebrations are characteristic to the Gomez home. Santos expressed his pleasure in having a majority of his grandchildren living nearby.

Madahi Garcia

Photos by Bethany Trueblood

Madahi Garcia laughs with her friend Rachelle Edds during health class at Bayard Junior/Senior High on May 17, 2011. After their class the girls attended a school awards ceremony where teachers recognized the students for various accomplishments.

Madahi and her friend Rachelle stand up during the awards ceremony to be recognized for their participation in the Bayard swing choir. Madahi also received an award for first place in a group canned food structure contest and an award for her participation in basketball.

Madahi said that when she was in school in Mexico, the classrooms were smaller but filled with more students. She attended a regular school, but said she still had to wear a uniform. She is glad that her family has stayed in Bayard and said that, for her education, it is better to stay rather than go back and forth to Mexico.

Madahi celebrates her thirteenth birthday on May 29, 2011 with family and friends outside her home in Bayard, Neb.

Migdahi Garcia

Photos by Bethany Trueblood

Migdahi Garcia, 11, is the youngest in the Garcia family. She just completed the fifth grade and will join her sisters Madahi and Sinahi at the Bayard junior/senior high next fall. Now that school is out, Migdahi plans to read books for the Bayard Public Library’s summer reading club.

Migdahi spends an afternoon at the park near the Bayard library. Now that she is older and her parents do not work in the fields as much as they used to, she is free to play instead of waiting for her parents in the car until they finish their work. She said she and her sisters got very bored waiting for their parents, especially since they worked for about 12 hours a day. Sometimes she would go to the migrant school during the summer, but her family travelled so much that she wasn’t around too often to attend the school. Now that her family has been settled in Bayard for the past few years, she finds migrant school is too easy for her since she has been able to attend school full time.

Migdahi enjoys playing instruments. Her father is very musical and lets her play his keyboard sometimes.

Migdahi participates in the shot put event at her school’s field day. She stays active and involved like her sisters Madahi and Sinahi.

Muddy Fields, Still a Busy Day

Photos by Anna Reed

Mel Paz, 69, has worked as a migrant farm worker since 1953.  For most of his life he would work every day, no matter the day of the week or holiday.  But since the use of Roundup Ready sugar beets and other agricultural technological advances, the need for work has diminished.

“I used to work everyday, even on holidays,” Paz said.  “But now the chemicals have made the jobs disappear.”

Becuase the fields do not need constant attention anymore for weeding and thinning the crops, Paz works to dig irrigation ditches and build pipes for various farmers in the Mitchell, Neb., area.  The rain throughout the week allowed Paz to not work on Saturday.

He spent the day mowing his lawn, going to the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and going to the farm of Jerry Lovelace.

A Family Business

Photos by Alex Matzke

Santos Gomez began driving truck as the need for agricultural field labor diminished. First encouraged by the farmers he had previously worked for. Later, when the local farmers co-op began to give him more traffic, he was able to expand his business.

Eddie the youngest of the Gomez boys at 20, learns the ins and outs of trucking from his father. On breaks from college at Chadron State, in Chadron, Neb., Eddie takes the lead in the fleet’s fastest truck.

Estimating fuel needs is another aspect of Eddie’s job. Like car racing, stopping for fuel can put you behind the rest of the pack, impacting your final delivery and the length of your workday.

Hauling one load of grain takes a few hours. The last 30 mile stretch of road, Hay-Springs to the co-op in Hemingford, Neb., is the most grueling. A straight shot without much to look at, Eddie’s older brother will sometimes call to make sure he isn’t getting drowsy.

Long days characterize this work, similar to that of the migrant labor the family used to preform. Their morning begins at 4:30am and ends around 6pm when, on average, four hauls per driver have been completed.

Cattle Branding

Photos by Alex Matzke

Jose Perez, a former migrant worker, during branding on Saturday, May 21. A temporary pen is constructed and all the nearby pasturing cows and calves are rounded up. Perez and others work to separate the calves from their mothers before branding begins.

Aiden, 4, reacts to his first branding. A handful of children were present at the branding on Saturday, mostly brought by their fathers to experience a day at work. Cows waited at the edge of the temporary pen, like mothers in a line of minivans after school. As calves would emerge, a barrage of mooing and smelling persisted until cow and calf were reunited.

Gilbert Perez prepares vaccines during branding.

Bluffs overlooking the Banner Feeding Co. in Banner County, Nebraska.

Ruth Escamilla: Migrant Education Program

Photos by Bethany Trueblood

Ruth Escamilla is all too familiar with the migrant lifestyle; her family used to migrate from Mexico to Texas, then to Oklahoma, Kansas and Washington. Ruth remembers beginning her education at age 13 in Washington, but it was only for certain months of the year since her father did agricultural work and the family travelled a lot. When she was still 13 her parents decided to go to Nebraska and her dad did not want to work so many months and be away from Mexico. Ruth began working in the fields with her parents; although it was hard work, she said it taught her how to value education.

Several years after she and her husband were married, they decided to leave field work to make a better life for their children. Ruth went back to school and got her GED with the help of the National Association of Farmworkers (NAF). For fourteen years she worked with the Migrant Head Start program to inform migrant families on the importance of education before she started working as a bilingual para for the Alliance middle school.

Ruth continues to work with migrant families to teach them to value education. Currently, she works as a data specialist for the summer Migrant Education Program. She makes sure that all of the information they have for the families, including addresses and phone numbers, is up to date so that they can keep in touch with the families and make sure the bus route can pick up migrant students from around Alliance.