"Do you know a woman by the name of Franscica Herrera?" I asked a few of the strikers and among the supporters of the coalition's Fair Food campaign camping out along Airport Road. I caught myself a few times asking for Francisca, followed by the obvious explanation of who she was: the mother of Carlitos, the baby without limbs.
Neither of them is easy to forget. Carlitos, for his physical limitations and Francisca, for that permanent smile across her face; that smile that is half youthful joie de vivre and half bewilderment, almost as if the world around her in 2013 was as unfamiliar as it was years ago when she crossed the border.
Two weeks later, maybe more, Francisca arrived in North Carolina, where she picked tomatoes for 12-14 hours a day alongside her husband. When the harvest was over and the soil was done for the year, the couple moved South, looking for work. First, they worked in Fort Myers and when there was nothing left for them to do there, they continued farther south to Immokalee where a produce company hired them as farmhand. At the company labor camp, they shared a trailer, which should have been condemned, with four other people, each of them paid $35 a week, turning a derelict trailer into a cash machine generating the company $840 a month.
Sostenes gave birth to Jesus, a baby boy born with Pierre Robin Syndrome, a condition in which the lower jaw is exceedingly small, set back, and the tongue is pushed to the back of the throat. Baby Jesus was at constant risk of swallowing his own tongue and dying of asphyxiation.
Maria gave birth to an underweight baby boy with no nose, no ears, an immature heart, malfunctioning lungs and underdeveloped genitalia. He was named Jorge, then renamed Violeta, then he/she died.
Francisca gave birth to Carlitos, baby boy without arms or legs
I didn't talk about the lawsuit back then when I interviewed her and we didn't talk about it either now. My guess is that her lawyer won. She lives in a beautiful house with a double garage and a kitchen with granite counters. Carlitos has a state of the art wheel chair which he operates with his right stump. He is a happy boy; smiley and a bit of a flirt, who doesn't think twice about blowing kisses and winking with abandon.
Are you happy, Francisca? I asked her.
She giggles like a little girl.
"I don't know," she said.