Season of Sacrifice
Martin and Ramon Alvarez Avalos, brothers from a small village near Guanajuato, Mexico, travel to Virginia with 18 other men on H-2B federal guest worker program. For eight months a year the men leave their families and work for Mays Bros. Inc., a construction company based in Forest, Virginia. The make $8.20 an hour, which is equal to one days pay in Mexico.
Most of the workers time is spent laying pipe, pouring concrete and doing other physically demanding labor across Central Virginia. They live sparse lifestyles in order to send much or their pay back to their families in Mexico.
Their presence in the community caused controversy as David St. John, owner of Mays Bros. Inc. asked for a permit to build the workers town homes. County officials rejected the request, saying that homes wouldn’t fit with the surrounding area. In public meetings residents said they didn’t like the homes being so close to the local high school.
The work is hard and they constantly think of their families and lives in Mexico. “Our sadness can choke us at times but we need to suffer in our lives. We have the need to be better, to make our families a little better,” says Ramon.
Despite their sacrifice the workers will come back year after year. Ramon continues, “If we are here we want to be in Mexico. If we are there, well, we need to work to continue living. Our lives are very very difficult.”
Martin Alvarez Avalos carries tools that help smooth out cement at a work site in Vinton, Va. Avalos works as a seasonal worker for Mays Bros., Inc. a local construction company. Some of his skills, like laying cement, that he has learned from the company have helped him to better his life in Mexico.
Rigoberto Rodriguez Castro gets his hair cut outside of his house. Castro lives in a house with 7 other men on the property that was denied a public rezoning request to build bigger condos for the men.
Ramon Alvarez Avalos sits at home a watches television during a rainy afternoon which kept them home from work. Avalos is from Mexico and comes to the United States for 8 months to work legally as a H-2B guest worker. This program provides a way for his family to climb out of poverty in Mexico.
Ramon Alvarez Avalos lays pipe in the hot summer heat at a construction site for townhomes in Vinton, Va. Laying pipe is a extremely demanding job, the kind of work that Mays Bros. can't find American workers to do.
Ruben Castro Ramos lays in the truck bed after shopping for food at Walmart in Lynchburg, Va. Most of the men do not have drivers licenses so they are reliant on Mays Bros. for things like buying groceries.
Juan A. Vargas Castro (left) laughs as Bobby Murray makes a joke at Mi Patron restaurant. Both men work for Mays Bros., Inc. although Castro is a seasonal worker from Mexico who comes to the US to work for 8 months out of the year.
Agustin Avalos Flores talks on the phone to his family in the aisle of the Mexican store Los Amigos in Lynchburg, Va. The store provides a place to buy phone cards, wire money back home, and purchase familiar goods from home. With the little money that the men make they buy phone cards to talk to their family. Sometimes they spend only 20 minutes a week talking with their family back home.
Ismael Martinez Martinez (left) and Martin Alvarez Avalos work on their taxes one rainy afternoon at their apartment in Campbell County, Va. Ismael is Martin's brother-in-law and is one of many in Avalos' family that work through the H-2B guest worker program. Martin and his brother Ramon were the among the first in their family to work in this program. After they had success with it they brought more and more of their family to work.
Martin Alvarez Avalos (left), Ismael Martinez Martinez (middle) and Manuel F. Martinez Martinez unload bags. The men are getting ready to board a shuttle van that will take them to a bus that will bring them to Mexico. The journey back home is three days long. The men are leaving after working in the area as guest workers for the past 8 months. They worked for May Bros., Inc. a local construction company.