Read the Spanish version here.
Manuel de la Cruz recalls the incident in flashes.
He was driving a meat slicer carefully through the fields around the South Bay when a flash of indescribable pain hit his right arm. His eyes rolled down.
The index finger on his right hand was gone.
Manuel’s first thought was not about the pain, the future, or the unbearable sun pressing on him. It was about his daughter Anahi.
It was her fifteenth birthday.
“She was all I could think of,” he said. “She’s my little girl.”
Manuel is a father of five, but Anahi has long required special care and attention. Born with Down syndrome, she spent most of her childhood using a feeding tube.
Now 17, she still has trouble feeding herself. It is also difficult to walk without falling or hurting herself.
But she shares a special bond with her father. Their moods often mirror each other. He finds joy in seeing her excited about new things and cooking with him. When he is sad, she cries of sympathy and buries him in an embrace.
She depends on it.
The accident was the first of many obstacles challenging Manuel’s ability to care for his family and provide Anahi with the care she needed.
His livelihood, as the sole breadwinner of the family, is suddenly unreliable. This means that the future of his five children was like that In danger too. Manuel and the mother of his children separated in 2015, and she moved to Mexico.
After the accident, Manuel was in and out of the hospital for about a year. The gangrene infection prompted doctors to remove part of his middle finger as well. The loss of two fingers and chronic pain forced Manuel to accept that he would never be able to work on the farm again.
“The chances weren’t the same after the accident I had,” he said. “The employers didn’t think I would be a good worker.”
Manuel, 43, has lived in the South Bay for six years in a two-bedroom house just north of the small city center. Anahi shares a room with her 16-year-old brother, Angel. Their three older siblings – Isabel, 20, Arturo, 21, and Manuel Jr., 23 – out of the house but sometimes help their father pay the $1,200 monthly rent.
Stress and pressure melt away in the De La Cruz family’s kitchen
One afternoon, four of the five children were home for lunch. Manuel sautés the onions in oil before tossing the eggs over them and cooking the beans in another pan. The tiny kitchen filled with the warm aroma of corn tortillas as the kids huddled around the table assembling egg and bean tacos, then dipping them in Daddy’s homemade red pepper sauce.
“Gracías, Papa,” Anahi whispered, almost inaudibly as she cradled the taco in her hand.
Manuel, who had never sat down to enjoy his lunch, hovered behind his seated sons–almost all of them now taller than he was. Smile at the rare sight of Arturo and Manuel Jr. at his table, who are traveling across the country installing solar panels.
Outside of precious moments like these, the pressure is mounting on Manuel.
Most days of the week, he sells food to workers in West Palm Beach from a small trailer. But the truck he’s been using to transport food over 40 miles east has broken down several times with him and I finish inside. And no amount of food sales could make up for the steady income he earned as a farm laborer—about $600 each week.
Meanwhile, Anahi was recently hospitalized and missed weeks of school after choking on food. A teen proudly displaying her Glades Central High ID faces the prospect that even as she matures into adulthood, she will need to use a feeding tube again.
“I am the father,” he said, wiping away tears as Anahi wrapped her arms around him. “I have so many hopes for my children.” “They’re still babies. It’s hard for me to explain. I’d like to help her with a lot of things throughout life. It’s hard, because I don’t feel I can.”
Help from the community would be a “dream” for the De La Cruz family
Above all, Manuel knows he needs to keep a roof over Angels and Anahi’s heads as they try to finish high school.
The reliable vehicle will help him expand his food truck business. And support from the community will put hope back within reach of his family.
“Can you imagine?” he asked his children. “Growing up, they suffered a lot. For them to be able to get help from the community, it would be like winning the lottery. We never win anything. All we have is from work.”
“For us, this would be a dream,” said Manuel.
Manuel de la Cruz’s wish
Manuel de la Cruz needs resources to provide his family with a stable home equipped to accommodate Anahi’s limited mobility. He needs a reliable vehicle to travel to and from work and to expand his food truck business. Donations of rent and furniture will help the Farm Workers Coordinating Council secure a place where the De La Cruz family can recuperate and spend time together.
Nominating Agency: Farm Workers Coordinating Council