Working alongside her family at a Yakima Valley orchard in the late ’90s, a young Luz Iniguez once bit into freshly picked cherries and painted their juices on her cheeks and lips like makeup.

This cheerful moment, captured in an old family photo, was dropped amid long, hot hours spent working at Eastern Washington orchards as part of the agriculture industry that brings food to our tables. 

“You felt a sense of community in the fields because it was people talking your language, people hearing the kind of music you hear at home, people were eating the foods you eat,” Iniguez said. “It really felt like a community of people that were just working hard trying to make the most of a situation that was hard.”

While this picture is not featured, the Iniguezes and five other families share family photos and memories in the exhibition “All The Sacrifices You’ve Made / Todos los Sacrificios Que Has Hecho,” running at Tacoma’s Washington State Historical Society until Oct. 16. 

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The photos on display were hand-picked by Texas artists Mark Menjivar and Jason Reed of the art education program Borderland Collective, who connected with the families through the University of Washington’s College Assistance Migrant Program. CAMP supports first-year UW students from migrant and seasonal farmworker families. 

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For the exhibition, Menjivar and Reed traveled to Washington for the first time, visiting each of the families in Wenatchee and the Yakima Valley and perusing their family photo albums. “We think it’s really important for the original photographs to stay in their original homes,” Menjivar said, noting all photos in the exhibition are copies.

Reed scanned photo after photo and Menjivar spoke with the families.

“There are definitely pictures that talk about labor, but the majority of the pictures actually talked about the joy, the resilience and sometimes the grief,” Reed said. “The kind of family dynamics that everybody has.” 

Life in a farmworker family, captured in these photos, requires hard work and many sacrifices. 

U.S. agriculture has long depended on immigrant labor. In 1942, the temporary contract labor Bracero Program attracted millions of Latino workers to the country, including more than 46,000 Mexican laborers in the Northwest. The short-lived program guaranteed wages, insurance and housing. The promise wasn’t met; some former workers are still unpaid

Conditions in Washington and beyond are still far from ideal, and COVID-19 and heat waves have made the work even more difficult. In May, more than 70 Mount Vernon farmworkers held strikes, demanding increased wages, safety equipment and improved sick leave. This summer, a Washington orchard was fined $64,120 for violating farmworkers’ rights. 

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Thinking back on the years documented in these family pictures, Iniguez remembers waking up before sunrise and getting ready to work in the orchards during summer. Her mom would wrap her and her siblings up in long-sleeved shirts and jeans for some protection from the sun, bugs, branches and more. They picked cherries for hours until it got too hot. They would return home and get hosed down, sometimes literally, to rid themselves of harmful pesticides, which poses an outsized threat to the health of Latino farmworkers

Iniguez, now 37, was 3 when she, her five siblings and their widowed mother, Maria Rosario Montes De Oca, crossed the border from Michoacán, Mexico, to the United States in 1988. At that point, farmwork wasn’t a choice — it was a necessity for the family to survive. 

Iniguez’s mother worked 18-hour days; she picked fruit in the morning then sorted produce in warehouses in the afternoon. Sleep was limited but she got up early every morning to clean and prepare food for her kids to eat that day.

“I could see it in her eye bags,” said Iniguez, now director of UW’s Educational Opportunity Program, “because her eyes would be so tiny and her eye bags would be huge from just not sleeping.” 

There were happy moments, too, especially when the family was together. They would go to the library, visit the park on Easter and get small presents from the dollar store during holidays. They cooked dinner together whenever they could. 

And Iniguez and her siblings made their own sacrifices. During harsh winters, they wrapped their shoes in plastic bags to make them last longer. Members of their church looked out for the family.

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And there was also grief. When Iniguez was in middle school, her 19-year-old brother died in a tragic accident. A couple of years later, her other brother was deported, which pushed the rest of the family to file for citizenship. Things were not easy, as is the case for many other immigrant farmworking families.

“People often view Latino immigrants as people who are here taking advantage of the U.S. system,” Iniguez said, “but actually I think it’s the U.S. that takes advantage of very affordable labor and people’s humanity.” 

Iniguez juggled school and work until she went to Central Washington University. She thinks her mother, who came to the U.S. chasing the American dream and still works in agricultural warehouses, will work as long as her body allows.

These memories of hard labor, familial joy and personal sacrifice are reflected in stories from the other farmworker families featured in “All the Sacrifices You’ve Made.” 

Physical work was commonplace for Orfil Olmos and his father, Orfil Olmos Sr., who was 17 when he came to the U.S. in 1984. He settled in las cabinas — the cabins — provided to workers by Wenatchee Valley area orchards and was joined by his wife in 1988. In 1991, they bought a house they still live in today.

Olmos learned the value of hard work as a child. His dad would always tell him, “Hecha le ganas, porque stas cabron.” In other words: Work hard because you’re an idiot.

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Olmos was 6 the first time he worked in the orchards. The younger Olmos would mirror how his dad filled his own buckets, and Olmos Sr. gave his son a few dollars for each box. 

Little Olmos saved his “cherry money” for essentials. When he was 11, he eyed something he really wanted. Olmos had been sleeping on a 2-inch mattress, but with $600 (and the help of his mother and truck-owning brother), he bought a new bed. 

“Every dollar is hard earned,” he said.

Olmos worked in the orchards until he was 18. Despite the dirty portable toilets and physical strain, he built character. He harnessed that and left Wenatchee to study market development at the UW. Two years after graduating and approaching his 24th birthday, Olmos spends a lot of time with family. They still live in Entiat. Blessed with good genetics and running on frijoles, tortillas and nopales, 55-year-old Olmos Sr. is still doing farmwork. 

Similar stories of longevity and simple life moments are shown in other families’ photos in the Tacoma exhibition. Looking back on the pictures stirs memories.  

Natalia Esquivel Silva splits her early life in Wenatchee into two parts: before and after sixth grade, when her family bought their first home. 

She grew up in a set of apartments where each room was filled with other farmworking families. The buildings circled a parking lot and soccer field, and the air was filled with the sounds of children playing and parents heading to and from work. 

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While home for summer, Esquivel Silva noticed her neighbors would rise early and follow each other to the orchards, lunch bags in hand.

“That’s something that was very important: to get to work before the sun came out,” said Esquivel Silva, now 26 and the community program manager for UW’s Foster School of Business. “It would be unbearable when the sun came out.”

At 14, Esquivel Silva began working 14- to 16-hour shifts in a fruit-sorting factory. In the orchards or at the factory, she noticed people push their limits to provide for their families. They would chug energy drink after energy drink to work day and night shifts.

When they could, Esquivel Silva and other workers spent time with their families. Esquivel Silva remembers her little sister asking for an iPod — bold, since the older siblings rarely asked for anything — and how the family came together to buy it.

“We wrapped it in a box and then wrapped it in another box and another box and another box,” she said. “It was super cute because all of us were crying because there was just so much joy.” 

Seeing her family live and grow also brings her joy. Her mom is still in agriculture work, but her dad taught himself English and, for the last decade, has worked for a wealthy Wenatchee family with his own landscaping company. Her siblings have jobs and families. Her younger sister is still in high school. 

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“I wish people understood how beautiful it can be to support and want better things for the community rather than just their labor and exploitation,” Esquivel Silva said.

Along with photos of the families, “All the Sacrifices You’ve Made” also holds historical pieces, like tools and old advertising posters. After the exhibition ends, the copied photos and materials will be stored in the museum’s permanent collections. 

The families featured in the exhibition still have the originals, proof of the memories and sacrifices they made in pursuit of a better life, like countless other farmworking Latino families. In “All the Sacrifices You’ve Made,” you can get a glimpse from their point of view. 

“All the Sacrifices You’ve Made / Todos Los Sacrificios Que Has Hecho”

The exhibition runs through Oct. 16 at the Washington State Historical Society, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on every third Thursday of the month. Tickets can be purchased at washingtonhistory.org or at the museum ($14/adults, $11/students, seniors and military members). Admission is free from 3-8 p.m. during the museum’s Thursday extended hours. A closing conversation about the exhibit will be held virtually via Zoom Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. See washingtonhistory.org for more info.

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story erroneously stated where materials will be held after the exhibit concludes. The copied photos will be displayed among the permanent collections at the Washington State Historical Society.