Mexican X Part XIX: La Pixca Endures

David Bowles
2 min readOct 30, 2022

It’s been a formative experience for my wife and many of my friends and cousins. Trabajar en la pisca. Working in the fields. Not “pizca.” PISCA. Or maybe “pishca”? Let’s take a look, shall we? ‘Amos a ver.

For most of my life, the Río Grande Valley of South Texas (it’s not actually a valley, btw, just a flood plain dotted with oxbow lakes and thorn forest) was dedicated to agriculture. On the farm-to-market road where I live, there are still many fields and orchards.

During harvesting time, you’ll see cars perched at an angle between the shoulder and the ditch, near a cluster of porta potties. Entire families, who’ve begun since dawn the work of picking onion, cucumber, etc. La pisca. When it’s off-season here, many travel north.

Folks working en la pisca. From the January 30, 2020 edition of El Sudcaliforniano

For a long time, I thought the verb for picking fruit, vegetables, etc. was “pizcar,” a related synonym of “pellizcar,” to pinch (etymologically connected to French pincer and Italian pizzicare). We say a “pizca de sal” (pinch of salt), so do we pinch fruit from the vine?

But it’s “piscar,” completely unrelated to its homophone. In fact, it’s not an Indo-European word at all. It’s Nahuatl. The original verb is “pixca” (PEESH-kah), and it means “to harvest.”

It can be intransitive (no object) —

  • nipixca, I harvest
  • tipixca, you harvest
  • pixca, s/he, it harvest (or singular they harvest)
  • tipixcah, we harvest
  • ampixcah, y’all harvest
  • pixcah, they harvest

It can be transitive, too —

  • in cintli nicpixca, I harvest the corn

A person doing the harvesting could be called either a “pixcac” or a “pixcani.” Entire city-states depended on the work of these folks, who brought food from chinampas and fields to the marketplace.

The fact that modern Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants use this thousand-year-old word to describe the valuable work many from our community do to keep the US economy afloat … resonates with me very strongly. The pixcanimeh among us may be hated, but you need them.

And for those of you who have made fun of Mexicans and Mexican Americans for using “pisca” to describe this “harvesting by hand,” wise up. It’s not slang. It’s not a corruption of your “mother tongue” or whatever.

It’s an ancestral word full of connotations that synonyms lack.

Harvesting maize. Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.

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David Bowles

A Mexican American author & translator from South Texas. Teaches literature & Nahuatl at UTRGV. VP of the Texas Institute of Letters.