“I think I come from a long line of storytellers,” said Ramon Mesa Ledesma, who grew up a migrant worker and is now an author telling his life story in a series of autobiographical books.
“My mom and dad both, when we were out in the fields, loved telling stories. I think I must have got that from them,” Ledesma said. “I found myself gravitating toward story telling and then writing.”
Born in Toppenish, Washington, Ledesma grew up as one of 16 children. His parents, who moved to Washington from Mexico, were migrant workers in strawberry fields all around the northwest. Eventually, their children joined the industry and they traveled from camp to camp as a family.
Migrant workers have been the subject of many recent political and economic conversations regarding job security and working conditions. Ledesma told his story of growing up in migrant worker camps through his book “Migrant Earth” at Village Books in Bellingham in early March.
At his reading, Ledesma discussed how his mother and father split up when he was very young and how that affected his adolescence. After his father left, Ledesma spent an increasing amount of time with his mother and 15 siblings and tells several stories in “Migrant Earth” about his siblings becoming his best friends.
“The wonderful thing about having a big family is that you never have to worry about friends,” Ledesma said. “Having come from a large family, their kin, my brother’s and sister’s kids, all became part of a greater community. My kids and their kids are great friends. I found that, coming from a large family, I relate to my kids so much better.”
In “Migrant Earth,” Ledesma captures the lessons he learned from his parents and siblings during his adolescence spent in the agricultural fields of Washington through poetry and short stories. Though many of the stories are about the struggles of migrant labor camps and long, hot days spent in the field, Ledesma hopes to elicit passion from his readers through his words.
“I hope that as [readers] listen to the stories, they can feel the passion that went into them and the life that went into the experiences,” Ledesma said. “I want them to almost get an emotional reaction to everything I’ve written. It was meant for that purpose.”
Ledesma currently lives in Sedro-Woolley, Washington and visited Bellingham to do the reading from “Migrant Earth” as a part of its Literature Live program.
“This is such an artistic community. It’s full of writers, it’s full of artists and it’s full of musicians. It’s a great muse for my writing,” Ledesma said.
During his reading, Ledesma would pause between short stories or poems to share a bit about the context, most of which was family related. For instance, Ledesma shared stories about his father with whom he wasn’t particularly close, according to “Migrant Sun,” but taught him the value of a hard work ethic, something that he touches on throughout the entirety of his book.
“Migrant Earth” is the sequel to “Migrant Sun,” , both of which are entirely autobiographical, Ledesma said. “Migrant Sun” outlines his experiences during his early childhood while “Migrant Earth” describes his adolescence as he started to grow up.
Ledesma has also written a children’s book entitled “Tomás And The Magic Race Cars.” This story is about a boy growing up in a Mexican-American family whose parents are going through a divorce. Tomás, the little boy, seeks wisdom through his grandparent’s best friend from Mexico.
Ledesma has been divorced in the past and describes a dream he had about five years afterward.
“I had this dream, this really vivid dream, and I wrote it down when I woke up the next morning — and there was the book,” Ledesma said. “The book is aimed at helping children understand parents getting divorced. It helped me heal through mine.”
Ledesma keeps his kids in mind in all of his work, he said.
“All the books are aimed at them, specifically,” Ledesma said. “Growing up as a migrant worker, there’s a lot of shame in it. We never talked about it. These books are my way of introducing them to it, so they could begin to ask questions and understand where they came from.”