Photos and story by Shannon Millard
It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and the sound of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell comes from Billamar’s room and echoes throughout the otherwise silent, run down farm house. Moments later black silk coffee is brewing as Angel scurries out of his curtained off makeshift bedroom in the living room.
It is the start of their day but the end of Tomas and Lucero’s that have been milking since 7 p.m. A rotation in the endless work cycle of a Central Michigan diary farm.
On this particular dairy farm they milk 700 cows, three times a day, seven days a week. The owner of the farm used to hire local high school students to take on this large task but for the last 14 years has relied on six migrant workers. The owner cites the demise of the traditional family within the area as the main reason as to why he can’t seem to keep local help past two paychecks. To the boss, the Mexicans are God sent, to them the boss is an angel.
Every shift the Mexican workers, Victor and Alberto, Lucero and Tomas, and Billamar and Angel, walk into a freshly power washed parlor. As their eight-hour shift comes to an end the walls become shit splattered with a smell to match. A tough life but worth it; they are motivated by their dreams to support their family and to live a better life away from the corruption they faced in Mexico.
The newest employee on the farm is Alberto. He was a police officer in Salina Cruz, Mexico. He was smuggled into America with his two sisters by bus for $2,000 each. He lived in North Carolina working multiple jobs before he left on his own to work on the dairy farm to make more money. “Every night I cry. I miss my family, here I have no one, no sisters, parents or friends, so I drink beer every night to fall asleep,” said Alberto while looking at a photo of a Christmas tree from the year prior.
It is not everyones dream to come to America and stay. Each and everyone of these undocumented Mexicans are working to make their quality of life better for themselves and their family. They all dream of one day returning to their homeland with new opportunities afforded to them by their jobs in the United States. Lucero joked, “I am going to find myself a green eyed man to take with me back to Mexico.”
Bio: Shannon Millard is a senior, graduating in December 2015 with a Bachelors of Science in Photojournalism from Central Michigan University. She works as a photo intern with Steve Jessmore for University Communications. Her past internships have lead her to the heat stricken longhorn state of Texas and the Last Frontier hiking mountains and documenting wildlife in Alaska. Shannon was runner up College Photographer of The Year and placed first with her multimedia video, Because of Us, at the 2015 Michigan Press Photographers Association seminar and contest. She is moving to North Carolina after graduation to do freelance photography.
Experience: The Fences: Faces of Migration workshop with VII's Danny Wilcox Frazier and professor Kent Miller has challenged me intellectually, physically and emotionally. Meeting Alberto, Victor, Billamar, Angel, Lucero and Tomas was a gift. Everyday that I was shooting I was reminded of the privilege we are given as photojournalists to meet a diverse group of people and immerse yourself in their lives. I speak very little Spanish aside from hello, how are you etc. The six subjects I followed also spoke very little English. There was a language barrier but words can only teach you so much about a person. The workshop pushed me to make the most of the short time I spent with them and taught me to learn non-verbal cues. The workshop has many parts to it, not only are we connecting with our story subjects but we connect our classmates as well. We get to be involved in everyone’s stories through nightly feedback and discussion. The workshop week is something I have been able to be a part of for three years now and each year I walk away a stronger person and photojournalist.