The weight of memories drag Juan’s gaze into the muddy trail leading in and out of the canyon where some of his countrymen still live hidden in shanty homes among the rolling hills and farmlands around Carlsbad, CA. As he walks past slashed and filthy mattresses, legless chairs and broken mirrors, he lifts his head only to search for that silver sky that reminds him his home is elsewhere outside.
Years ago, he walked out of a similar canyon after spending four years living underground. Back then, he recalls, “conditions were really bad. People had to dig holes to live in. There were accidents and some people died.” Yet, as much as he tries to distance himself from this unforgiving canyon, he often returns to it with cloths, canned food, and bottled water for the farm workers still living here. It is not that there is a shortage of water. There is plenty of it, but it comes from the fields, the same fields where the farm workers toil, and it is contaminated with pesticides. They still use it for bathing, cleaning but not for drinking. To drink, they use the bottled water that Juan Ramón Reyes brings them; knowing that, he walks away with a painful smile, confident that at least they will have clean drinking water.
(Shadow Canyon is an ongoing series of vignettes highlighting the immigrants that live in the canyons in San Diego County)