Two weeks ago, farmworkers and farmworker allies from across the state came together to celebrate Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. On Día de los Muertos, which originated in Mexico and is also observed in other Latin American countries, people gather to remember those who are no longer with us. Though it focuses on the dead, the holiday is not morbid, but is rather a “celebration of life.” While originally an indigenous holiday, due to colonialism this holiday has also become associated with the Christian celebrations of All Saints Day, which overlaps with Día de los Muertos and shares in rememberance of those who have passed on.
This particular celebration, held at the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry in Dunn, NC, specifically honored the lives of those who passed away as a result of working in the fields of North Carolina. Farm labor is hard labor—it requires repetitive motions, operating dangerous machinery, pesticide application, and being bent over for hours in the hot sun. Due to these factors, agricultural work is one of the top three most dangerous occupations in the United States. The following is one of the obituaries read at the event:
Agustin traveled to the United States from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, when he was 17 years old. He was Zapatec, which was also his first language. He made the trip with one other person, a cousin or friend. After arriving in the United States, they went in separate directions and Agustin found his way to Cullowhee, NC, where he worked for the next 11 years doing a variety of jobs. He sometimes worked seasonally in agriculture, cutting Christmas trees in the fall. Most often he worked in landscaping and tree removal. Agustin was very active in the Catholic church in our community. He was a patient of Vecinos for many years and spent a lot of time with Vecinos’ staff who helped him get treatment and medications for epilepsy. Agustin was quiet and shy, kind, thoughtful and patient. He was strong and hardworking. He never complained, even after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, even when we knew he was in pain and not feeling well. Agustin was gracious and courageous. Dear Agustin, thank you for sharing part of your journey with us, for letting us be a part of your story. Rest in peace.
I am grateful for Agustin and the many farmworkers who have sacrificed everything to come to North Carolina and work in the fields. As Christians, we remember Christ’s death that secured for us a place in forever communion with the family of God. I also honor and remember the many Saints who came before me, people who lived and died to make this world a better place. Included in those Saints are Agustin and all of the other farmworkers who harvest the food that comes to our tables. As we enter into a season where we will break bread around the table at holiday celebrations, may we remember the hands that harvested the food on our tables and continually work to produce a harvest of justice that includes fair wages, decent housing, healthcare, and hope for the future.