It was 3:30 am and my alarm was breaking my light slumber. It was time to start my fourth and final day in Nicaragua. My classmates, professors, and I were embarking on our “migrant hike,” accompanied by two migrant food workers as our guides. For decades, our older guide traveled across the border to find work on pineapple, sugar cane, orange, or banana plantations or whatever employment he can find. The other trabajador was sixteen years old and crossed the border to earn money for both his high school education and family food. He told us that he wants to go to university to become a civil engineer.
This hike was not a source of pride or accomplishment at the end. After my hike, I was able to return to my beautiful view of the Río San Juan at our hostel. At the end of our guides’ hikes on a normal day, they may have a 12-hour work day ahead on a pineapple plantation in the unceasing heat and blistering sun. Yet this is only the beginning of a long harvest season, making no more than $2-3 a day. They are not unionized and have no desire to unionize—the fear of corruption constantly plagues the good intentions of the whole. If they were lucky, they would obtain face masks to protect themselves from the carcinogenic chemicals. These chemicals push pineapple plantations to hire employees 50 years or older, as the general lifetime of a pineapple worker is 20-30 years after employment begins.
This story is all-too-common. It happens at the Hueco (in English, the hole a.k.a. the border region between the United States and Mexico), here between the Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and all around the world. Those economies that receive migrant workers rely on this cheap labor to keep their production high and their costs low. Those localities that contribute migrant workers gain valuable income to their economies but lose the chance to develop their personal infrastructure. It is a practice all governments are aware of, but a blind eye is turned to the rights of undocumented workers for safety, fair wages, and the opportunity to find residence in their place of work.
So we return to the early morning fog. The sun had still yet to break the darkness that surrounds the dried mud. We were lucky; it had not rained well for a long time. The lengthy and severe drought had been felt in all corners of Central America we visited. The mud, as we were told, would have found it’s way up to our knees had we come in the rainy season, doubling the time and the misery. We walked through farm after farm, passing cows waking to graze, roosters beginning to crow. The humidity had us swimming in sweat before we could see the person a few feet in front of our face.
The challenge ahead is uncomfortable. Will I allow the privilege as an American abroad open my eyes? Will I share this story not as mine to appropriate, but to guide my choices as a consumer, as a human being standing up to injustice?