"Our Lives Begin to End the Day we Become Silent About Things that Matter."  --Martin Luther King. Jr.
 
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A few months back, outside Publix Supermarket headquarters, where the Coalition of Immokalee Workers conducted a six-day hunger strike, I made inquiries about Francisca.
"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.



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Ten years ago, at sixteen, Francisca left Huehuetonoc, Mexico, and crossed into the USA along with 19 "chickens|" led by a coyote. They walked the desert for two weeks, slept little, ate less. They walked, trotted, crouched, crawled and ran on command. In silence. In fear. Their hearts bursting with hope and hunger gnawing at their guts.
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.

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Francisca got pregnant while living at the migrant labor camp. So did her neighbors Sostenes and Maria. The three of them got bathed in pesticides while pregnant and the three of them gave birth to extraordinary babies.
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

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Jesus, Jorge/Violeta, and Carlitos became to be known as the TRES NIÑOS, a name coined by a group of lawyers who initiated a lawsuit against the produce company. Then Sostenes left Immokalee and Maria, understandably,  didn't want to be involved in legal procedures. It was just Francisca. A lawyer filed suit, holding her employer liable for medical and hospital costs, lifetime care costs, disability, disfigurement, pain, suffering and mental anguish among other charges.
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.