New Bedford’s seafood processing facilities employ many workers who have immigrated from Central America. These workers sacrifice a great deal to build a better life. They leave children, parents, and extended networks thousands of miles behind to move to New Bedford. Their story is as much a part of our working waterfront as those of families who have been here for generations.
These stories were produced by Laura Orleans of the Working Waterfront Festival, as part of the NOAA Voices from the Fisheries oral history project. These four excerpts come from a series of 15 anonymous interviews with women in the seafood processing industry. Audio is in Spanish.
“It was very hard because I wanted to bring my daughter with me. I wanted to bring her but since my father had already traveled on the road [to the U.S.], he told me not to bring her because it was very dangerous, and I could lose her, and that it would better to leave her with them . . . So finally I left her, but I felt very sad while I was traveling, I kept thinking and remembering my daughter. It would get dark at night in the mountains while we were walking even when we could lay down I couldn’t sleep just thinking about my little girl . . . Ay I was so sad and desperate. I was here with my husband but I missed my daughter so much. I didn’t eat and just thought about my little girl. People told me that it was good that I made it here but I missed my daughter, I suffered so much. We all suffer in this country. Everyone. It’s not just me who leaves behind their children, many of us do, many children are left abandoned.”
“Sometimes your plan isn’t what you think. I left my son over there when he was two years old. Next year in 2008 he will turn twelve years old. To leave a loved one is the hardest thing and the most difficult, but in the moment of dreaming of coming to the United States you don’t care about how hard it is or what the consequences are. One doesn’t think it through. One comes to reason after the fact when the consequences have already happened. One regrets it a lot, just like I do now. If I would have thought about it I would have brought my son and I wouldn’t have thought of the risks and my son would be with me today. But like I said before the emotion let me forget of the person that was most close to me. When I left, I forgot about him when I left, it was as if I was a single person without anyone. But when I arrived in Mexico my son started to appear in my dreams and I cried bitterly but then there wasn’t any way back because I had already traveled half way.”
It’s hard not to think about the stories of fishermen leaving children and partners behind, and worrying about what they will miss while they’re away. Supporting a family they spend precious little time with.
“To be standing all day makes you tired. But sometimes, when you are working, cleaning fish, you start thinking of your father or sometimes your mother and you think “ I’ll send my check this week for this (back home)” and you are always thinking about your people. You can never be the same as who you are with your family. When you are sick or have problems and your family is over there, so you are never alone when you occupy a space in someone’s heart.”
“Over there maybe one lives with scarce resources but you are with your family, as a woman who is married and maybe you have problems with your husband, you need a lot of support from your parents. But here you come to suffer these things and your family is far away. You long for these things and it is difficult. The change from there to here is very difficult. All of it is very hard . . .Sometimes your parents get sick and you are not with them, that is why sometimes I pray to God I say ‘Lord, don’t let anything bad happen to my parents while I am here.’ If something was to happen, or one of my parents died while I was here and I was unable to see or help them… I know they will die one day but I ask God to let me go and be with them, to see them and to go live with them. Because it is hard to be here to hear that ‘we already buried your father or we already buried your mother that’s so hard and I have heard of cases like this here. You have it in mind that your parents are still alive, but this scares me so much. And that is why I think maybe we will stay just one or two more years here and I will go back.”