Farmworkers have always been essential workers to Carlos Marentes — long before they were declared essential amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The 70-year-old has spent more than three decades advocating for their rights.
Marentes was born in Ciudad Juárez, México, and both of his parents were farmworkers. As a child, he dreamed of achieving the American dream: to have stable work and own his own home. Then, in 1970, he started to work in the fields of Albuquerque, N.M. He saw exploitation and abuses of human rights, and realized how vulnerable farmworkers were.
His first dream came to an end, but a life of fighting for farmworkers began.
In 1977, he became a Texas Farm Workers Union volunteer and learned more about organizing and advocating for workers’ rights. A few years later, Marentes came back to El Paso and became the founder of The Border Agricultural Workers Project.
The project opened a center for farmworkers in 1994. Its goal: offer workers a safe place to stay near the port of entry between the U.S. and Mexico.
“Because it’s what America is: to protect the people,” says Marentes, who stresses the center is open to any farmworker, regardless of where they’re coming from or where they are heading — be it fields in New Mexico, California or New England.