Green chile production in New Mexico is a multi-million dollar industry yet the people who harvest the chiles live in dire poverty. Workers are paid a piece-rate of between 65¢ and 80¢ per 20lb. bucket that they pick. Many will net only $25 or $30 for a six-hour day. Because they're paid so little, many workers stay at the Sin Fronteras Organizing Project shelter in El Paso, TX. Workers there, like all chile workers, get up around 1:00 am to meet the labor contractors on El Paso Street. They'll wait for up to 3 hours to learn whether or not they’ll work that day. If there’s no work, they melt back into the early morning darkness. If there is, and they’re lucky enough to be hired, they’ll travel by bus or van to places like Hatch NM, a 95 mile drive. They’ll begin work as soon as it’s light enough to pick and at the end of the day, return to El Paso.
I spent a little over two weeks staying in the Sin Fronteras shelter in El Paso, sleeping on the floor like the workers do, getting up at 1:00am to photograph them. I'm amazed at how they're able to get up, day after day, to work in the fields for so little money. When asked how she could do that, Susanna said, "One thinks of one's family." She has a six-year old daughter and parents in Ciudad Juarez. “I have to feed them and provide for them. That gives me the courage to endure the heat and all the rest.” Green chile was recently voted the #1 iconic American food in a USA Today/10Best poll. I figure people should know a little bit about who's picking those chiles.
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Sin Fronteras Organizing Project, 201 E. 9th Street, El Paso, TX. 915-532-0921