The sun was burning and my back was killing me. And with those strawberries juicing in my bag, I knew I was not going to make money that day. Plus, I was being smoked by my Cambodian friend, not to mention the Hispanics who were way ahead of me. Maybe, I thought, I should look for a different line of work. Luckily, as a white male, I was able to.
Among my peers, I had the ability to add field hand to the long list of jobs that I tried, like deck hand, house painter, waiter, landscaper, graphic designer. Many of my fellow farm hands however, were locked into their station once they arrived Stateside.
Working a variety of gigs gives you empathy for those toiling in similar circumstances, and I always had the greatest respect for migrant agricultural workers. They worked the hardest, seemed to have the most cohesive culture and never complained.
A great many of my fellow farm workers endured fearful and exorbitantly expensive border crossings and enjoyed few — if any — of the liberties that I took for granted.
My travels in Mexico and South America also gave me a greater respect for the context that many “illegals” came from. In my limited time there, I witnessed plenty of civil unrest resulting from austerity programs and dodged the police crackdowns on street demonstrations. In Cusco, Peru, during a Latin American summit, I saw the water cannons being used on the citizens and was stung by clouds of tear gas. I knew that the domestic instability, there and elsewhere that rattled South America, would help drive many to cross the border to work in the United States.
With a split Supreme Court blocking President Obama’s plan to shield upwards of five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, the legal protections available to migrant farm workers remain almost nonexistent.
Legal frailty mixed with separation lends itself easily to fear of the other, a natural human trait.
Yet so is empathy and caring.
This issue of IGT is dedicated to the unsung heroes of our agricultural bounty. It is generously illustrated by the photos of Forest Woodward, humanizing those who, against daunting odds, crushing physical work and persistent injustice, work to provide us with the bounty that we are so blessed with.