Once Forbidden, Books Become A Lifeline For A Young Migrant Worker

May 30, 2014
Originally published on May 30, 2014 1:33 pm

In the late 1950s, when she was just 8 years old, Storm Reyes began picking fruit as a full-time farm laborer for less than $1 per hour. Storm and her family moved often, living in Native American migrant worker camps without electricity or running water.

With all that moving around, she wasn't allowed to have books growing up, Storm tells her son, Jeremy Hagquist, on a visit to StoryCorps in Tacoma, Wash.

"Books are heavy, and when you're moving a lot you have to keep things just as minimal as possible," she says.

She remembers a tough childhood in the migrant camps.

"The conditions were pretty terrible. I once told someone that I learned to fight with a knife long before I learned how to ride a bicycle," Storm says. "And when you are grinding day after day after day, there is no room in you for hope. There just isn't. You don't even know it exists. There's nothing to aspire to except filling your hungry belly. That's how I was raised."

But when she was 12, a bookmobile came to the fields where she and her family worked.

"So when I saw this big vehicle on the side of the road, and it was filled with books, I immediately stepped back," she says. "Fortunately the staff member saw me, kind of waved me in, and said, 'These are books, and you can take one home. You have to bring it back in two weeks, but you can take them home and read them.' "

The bookmobile staffer asked Storm what she was interested in and sent her home with a couple of books.

"I took them home and I devoured them. I didn't just read them, I devoured them," Storm says. "And I came back in two weeks and had more questions. And he gave me more books, and that started it."

The experience, she says, was life-changing.

"That taught me that hope was not just a word. And it gave me the courage to leave the camps. That's where the books made the difference."

Storm left the camps when she was a teenager and attended night school. She ended up working in the Pierce County Library System for more than 30 years.

"By the time I was 15, I knew there was a world outside of the camps," she says. "I believed I could find a place in it. And I did."

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with Dan Collison.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps, the project that collects interviews from across this country. Today we have a story from Tacoma, Washington. It starts in the early 1960s when Storm Reyes was growing up in Native American migrant farm worker camps. Storm started working as a full-time laborer, picking fruit when she was eight. Her family lived without electricity or running water. But as she recently told her son, Jeremy Hagquist, one day something arrived in camp that changed her life.

STORM REYES: The conditions were pretty terrible. I once told someone that I learned to fight with a knife long before I learned how to ride a bicycle. And when you were grinding day after day after day, there's no room in you for hope. There just isn't. You don't even know it exists. There's nothing to aspire to, except filling your hungry belly. That's how I was raised, but when I was 12 a bookmobile came to the fields. And you have to understand that I wasn't allowed to have books 'cause books are heavy and when you're moving a lot you have to keep things just as minimal as possible. So, when I first saw this big vehicle on the side of the road and it was filled with books, I immediately stepped back.

Fortunately, when the staff member saw me he kind of waved me in and said, these are books and you could take one home. I'm like, what's the catch? And he explained to me there was no catch. Then he asked me what I was interested in. And the night before the bookmobile had come in the camps there was an elder who was telling us about the day that Mount Rainier blew up and the devastation from the volcano. So, I told the bookmobile person that I was a little nervous about the mountain blowing up, and he said to me, the more you know about something the less you will fear it. And he gave me a book about volcanoes. And then I saw a book about dinosaurs. I said, aw that looks neat. So he gave me a book about dinosaurs. And I took them home and I devoured them. I didn't just read them, I devoured them. And I came back in two weeks and had more questions. And he gave me more books and that started it. That taught me that hope was not just a word, and it gave me the courage to leave the camps. That's where the books made the difference. By the time I was 15 I knew there was a world outside of the camps. I believed I could find a place in it and I did.

INSKEEP: Storm Reyes speaking at StoryCorps in Tacoma, Washington. As a teenager she left the camps, attended night school and ended up working in the Pierce County library system for more than 30 years. Her interview was recorded in partnership with The Institute Of Museum And Library Services, and will be archived at The Library Of Congress. You can hear more about her story on the StoryCorps podcast. Subscribe at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.