The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.
– Mark Twain, pen name of Samuel Clemens, American author and humorist
My Labor Day Weekend is over, but not the last revision of my novel. It’s just that now I have to find any nook and cranny of free time to keep on writing. I realized last night that because I have been doing nothing but edit and revise, I don’t have a blog post. Then I thought to myself, why not post an excerpt from the current chapter I am revising?
So, here is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of my novel-in-progress, A Village in the Fields, the story of an elderly Filipino farm worker, Fausto Empleo, who realizes what he has lost and gained from his struggles in America – in the agricultural fields of California, particularly during and after the Great Delano Grape Strikes of the 1960s and 1970s. I am still fiddling with saying what my novel is about in one sentence!
In this excerpt, Fausto, who is living in a camp for grape pickers in Delano in the 1950s, satisfies his curiosity by introducing himself to an immigrant farm worker from Yemen. The grape growers strategically kept the different nationalities in separate bunkhouses, partly to isolate them and to foment distrust among the groups:
“What is Yemen like?” Fausto asked.
The man dabbed the last piece of bread in the remains of his stew and ate it. He wiped his mouth with the red-and-black checkered scarf he had pulled from his head. “Where I come from—the coast—it is hot and humid,” the man answered.
Fausto licked his parched lips. “Is Yemen hot like Delano?”
The man laughed. “Yes, but we have monsoons. Many families fish for their livelihood. We are at the mercy of the monsoons.”
“We have typhoons in the Philippines. That is where I came from. My name is Fausto Empleo.” He thrust out his hand, and the man shook it vigorously.
“I am Ahmed Mansur, the son of Mansur Ali Ibrahim.”
“How long have you been in the States?” Ahmed moved his lips, adding up the years. “Thirty-five years, maybe more.”
“Ai, thirty-five years!” Fausto slapped his hand on his haunch. Dust rose from his dungarees. “You came in the twenties. Same as me!”
“When I left, there was so much unrest in Yemen, too much hardship for my family. I was looking to improve my fortune. I took a ship and came here to the Valley to work in the fields. I planned to save enough money to return to Mukalla, my hometown.” Ahmed stretched his legs and sat on an empty wooden crate bearing the label “Cuculich Farms.” “But I am still here,” he said, in a voice as hollow as the crate.
“Me, too. Me, too.”
“It is hard work in the fields, but what else is there for someone like me?”
Fausto couldn’t answer, his hands on his thighs, his palms open to the sky.
“Do you miss the Philippines? Do you miss your home?” he asked.
Fausto rubbed his neck where trickles of sweat made his skin itch. “Maybe I missed what it used to be or what it used to mean to me. But I have been here longer in the States than in the Philippines. My family is like a stranger to me. Imagine that!”
“I am afraid to imagine such things,” Ahmed said.
“What do you miss of your home?” Fausto wanted to know.
“Everything,” Ahmed whispered. He folded his fingers together like petals closing for the day. The rocky coast is like a school of ancient turtles sunning themselves by turquoise waters, he told Fausto. The city, crowded with stone buildings and chalk-white mosques, crawls up the base of wind-blasted hills. The whitewashed minarets soar and pierce the sharp blue sky. Ahmed imagined the wrinkles that have deepened around his mother’s eyes, which is not covered by her black chador. He is haunted by the memory of his father—alone in a boat bobbing off the coast, with hands as ragged as the nets he casts out into the deep waters.
Fausto held up a cluster of grapes. Ripe berries hung down from his fingers like strands of dark South Sea pearls, although these jewels lasted only weeks. That fact made the grapes more precious than any gem mined from the earth or harvested from the ocean. He laid the cluster in the crate by his feet. When he stood up, a sharp pain radiated from his hand, up his arm to his shoulder. He peeled off his cotton glove to massage his fingers and wrist, knead the length of his arm in a slow crawl. How could he forget? The long, hard work in the fields, the ache in his body, the low hourly rate reminded him daily of how costly and dear these grapes were.