FORT COLLINS, Colo. – A nonprofit in Fort Collins is raising money to create a bronze sculpture that will pay tribute to migrant workers and families that worked on sugar beet farms.
The idea came to Betty Aragon–Mitotes, the founder of the nonprofit Mujeres de Colores, two years ago at the dedication of Sugar Beets Park in Fort Collins.
“I saw something missing from the story, and that was the workers,” Aragon–Mitotes said.
Eager to pay homage to migrant and Hispanic workers that helped shape the local economy and contributed to the agricultural industry, she reached out to her contacts and met artist Frank Garza.
“I found out that there was really nothing — no monuments that really celebrated Hispanic field workers,” Garza said.
He brainstormed ideas with Aragon–Mitotes and they settled on a bronze sculpture of a hand holding a hand hoe. The monument was coined, “The Hand That Feeds.” It will be displayed at Sugar Beets Park, which is located in front of a former sugar beet factory.
“I really want the message to be that we are honoring the Mexican and the Hispanic beet workers that never got the recognition that they deserved,” Aragon–Mitotes said.
The short hoe represents the back-breaking work sugar beet workers endured. The hand symbolizes the Mexican and Hispanic families who carried out the labor despite the low pay and poor working conditions.
“It is about the workers who put the produce on the table,” Garza said.
In the late 1920s, the sugar beet industry became one of the largest employers of Hispanics in Colorado.
Carmel Solano started working in the fields of Fort Collins at a young age. He worked with his parents and little brother.
“I started thinning sugar beets when I was 7 and I did it until I was 17,” Solano said. “You signed a contract with a farmer and said you will thin sugar beets come hell or high water.”
The memories of 12-hour days bent over in the fields are hard to forget. Like many workers at the time, his family used a hand hoe, which was later banned in California because of chronic back pain and long-term effects on child workers. The hand hoe now symbolizes farmer exploitation. The National Park Foundation says the tool was known as “el brazo del diablo, (the devil's arm).” The hoe was used in sugar beet and lettuce farms. Farmers claimed the tool was vital to prevent damaging the plants.
“You were bent over all day,” Solano said. “It was one of the most difficult … labor-intensive (jobs).”
It would take all day for his family of four to get through an acre of land, which amounted to a payday of $11 for his family.
“We were just making enough for grocery money and transportation,” Solano said.
Solano's family also traveled to several states picking cotton, tomatoes, cucumbers and more.
Now, more than five decades later, he says it’s time to be seen and recognized for the backbreaking labor they endured on sugar beet farms.
“Some people want to forget about it -- bullet cakes, you need to know your history,” Solano said. “Without the beet worker, this area would have never survived because nobody else would do the work.”
So far, Aragon–Mitotes has raised $103,000 of the $300,000 needed for the monument. Her goal is to unveil the sculpture during Hispanic Heritage month, in September.
If you would like to donate to help fund the monument, click here.