Academic journal article Chasqui

Sanchez, Saul. Rows of Memory: Journeys of a Migrant Sugar-Beet Worker

Academic journal article Chasqui

Sanchez, Saul. Rows of Memory: Journeys of a Migrant Sugar-Beet Worker

Article excerpt

Sanchez, Saul. Rows of Memory: Journeys of a Migrant Sugar-Beet Worker. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2014. 210 pp. ISBN: 9781609382339.

For those of us of the past generation who have worked in sugar beet fields, the experience is one that will never be forgotten. The most effective way to thin beets is to use a short-hoe. The hoe has a handle, twelve to eighteen inches long, which makes it easily controlled to insure that the small plants are not harmed and the correct distance between plants is maintained. However, the short-hoe method means that the worker has to double over most of the time among the rows of beets causing a strain on the back that is not only painful at the time but often results in lifetime back problems. Thus, the title of this book, Rows of Memory, has significance because the memory may subside but pain never goes away. The cover picture of this book showing three of the author's uncles hunched over thinning beets in a field near Billings Montana, illustrates better than words the physical challenge of this type of work. Saul Sanchez recently retired from Texas Lutheran University where he was a professor of Spanish, French, and English. His lifetime publications focus on a variety of topics related to language and literature. As a young man, he worked with his family as an agricultural migrant. His family followed a pattern of migration that took him from Texas throughout the Midwest and western United States working with a variety of crops. The family specialty, however, was sugar beets.

This book is a coming-of-age memoir of his early life to the time he entered Southwest Texas State University at San Marcos at around twenty-five years of age and stopped working in the fields. Though the focus of the book is on his experiences, the story is in some ways a family story that examines in detail the historical evolution of five generations of a migrant family who moved from Mexico into southern Texas (Winter Garden) and then numerous places in rural United States. The foundation of the book is the personal narrative and descriptions of work and travel of the author but Sanchez has made it much more. He maps out migration routes, the role of the labor recruiter in migration patterns, and a fascinating discussion of the activities of the Border Patrol with the migrants. The author is adept at describing the lives of the workers dealing with working conditions and the struggles over the decisions to actually migrate. Important in the book are firsthand accounts of networks that were based on family and friends from Mexico and Texas and used to secure work and assistance. The author aptly intersperses his own personal recollections with the collective memory of his family to provide a story that is both autobiographical and historical in nature.

The most interesting part of the book for most will be the sections on the actual work activities and conditions. …

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