Unsung Santa Cruz: The essential and under appreciated work of a berry picker

Woman harvesting green beans
(Javier Aldaco De Los Santos)

In 1985, Teresa De Los Santos Trujillo immigrated to the United States and became a berry picker in Watsonville. Working in the fields provided her with a job and a sense of relaxation. She endured challenges but remained dedicated to providing for her family. Farm workers, especially immigrants, are essential to our community as they sustain our society by ensuring the availability of food, and should be recognized as unsung heroes.

Editor’s note: Lookout’s high school journalism challenge invited students to write a profile of a local unsung hero who is making a positive difference in our community, inspired by our popular “Unsung Santa Cruz” series. Our editing team read and reviewed the submissions, publishing the top ten stories. The top three authors are awarded a $500 scholarship.

The year was 1985 and Teresa was a recent immigrant to the United States. She had been in Watsonville for a few days and needed to find a job. After asking around, she found that she could work in the fields picking berries, as that was what was in season at the time. When she found the job, she was happy she had found a way to make money.

“I liked working in the field because it’s an outdoor job where I feel relaxed,” she said, “and it was one of the only jobs available to me.”

The woman in question is my grandma, Teresa De Los Santos Trujillo, a berry picker in Watsonville. Teresa grew up in the small town of Playa Azul on the coast of Michoacan, Mexico. Her family had been living in the area for generations, with her parents’ and grandparents’ hometown being El Habillal, Michoacan, not 3 miles away from Playa Azul. She is turning 69 this October, and she has strong Mexican roots. Like many other Mexican immigrants, she has been striving to provide food for the country for decades.

Thanks to the interview I had with my grandma, I was able to hear her story. I called her around 1 in the afternoon on April 20, and when she picked up, she gladly agreed to answer the questions I had for her. Throughout the interview, she would talk about her past experiences with great detail and she gave an in-depth perspective about what it was like to work in the fields.

One of the hardships that my grandma endured, and that many other farm workers face to this day, happened about 15 years ago. Although the summers here have always been hot, this summer was abnormally intolerable. According to Teresa, “When you go out into the fields, you instantly feel the sun scorching your skin. I wore gloves and covered my skin, but even then the heat was unbearable … and some people were passing out because of heat strokes.” In fact, temperatures were getting so hot that all of the fruit on the bushes was drying and shriveling up before the workers could even think about picking it, leading to an unproductive season. Regardless of all this, employers still expected workers to work long, hard hours in the scorching sun, putting their health and safety at risk.

Ultimately, without farmworkers, especially immigrants, our community would suffer immensely. Because farm work isn’t for everyone, it’s important to show the farmworkers the appreciation they deserve and they should be appreciated as the sustenance of our society, since no one could survive without them.