Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dreams of "Trabajo Digno" on International Migrants Day

By Amanda Jordan

She holds her dreams close. Close like the brown earth that creeps under her fingernails, close like the morning dew soaking through her shirt.

She begins the season in Texas, in Arizona, or in California. She harvests grapefruit, lettuce, or oranges. In the spring: cantaloupes or onions in Texas. In the summer, corn detasseling and seed sorting in Indiana or Iowa. Fall: apples in New York, Washington, Vermont…

Every few months she attends a new middle school, junior high, or high school. She makes friends she will soon leave. She starts assignments she won’t be able to turn in. She drops out.
She holds her family close. Close like the caravan of cars and trucks they form driving north, close like snow sticking to their tires, close like leaning in to speak Spanish together so They won’t hear.

She is part of any migrant farmworker family in the United States. Following the ebb and flow of growing, planting, and harvesting seasons for fruits, vegetables, and flowers, families often travel together on different routes throughout the country. People working in the fields carry out some of the most dangerous tasks under a myriad of unpredictable conditions. Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, like the recently approved Methyl Iodide in California, snake and spider bites, dangerous machinery, oppressive heat, and freezing rain mar their work.

In addition, migrant workers struggle within an industry that for years has barely raised wages in accordance with the cost of living. Breaks and holidays, protective equipment and sanitary toilets, things most working people take for granted, are often mere luxuries on farms where they work.

Most people migrating for the harvest are Mexican or Mexican-American, but African Americans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and in rare cases, white Americans, also toil together in farmwork. Concerns over legal status and laws against unionization, complicates worker solidarity and struggle, as some people laboring in these crops hesitate to organize for fear of deportation. State and federal health and safety regulations are in place, but the hierarchy of workers, crew leaders, owners, and then wealthy corporations setting the prices for the crops creates a stagnant system in which there is little incentive for the regulations to be followed. It is a system in which the tomato, the poinsettia, and the cantaloupe are all more important than the health and well-being of the family who harvests them.

For she who follows the tomato crop from seed to packing, Florida to the Delmarva Peninsula, yet dreams of a good house and trabajo digno for her parents, today is Migrants Day. For he who was threatened with losing his job because he refused to enter a field being laced with pesticides, today is Migrants Day. For the kids who miss months of school every year, or simply do not finish, in a country that mandates primary education, today is Migrants Day. For the workers who toil on land they do not own, pick thousands of vegetables they will not eat, and sleep places that will never be “home,” today is Migrants Day.

She holds the horizon close, the only consistency in her travels. She wakes up early, the ceiling of her workplace is the black sky punctured with stars.

Amanda Jordan provides training and advocacy on the health and safety of migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States. She is pursuing a master’s degree in Social Justice in Intercultural Relations.

1 comment:

  1. Once she traveled with a child. Her husband had abandoned her, pregnant, he brought her home and slipped off into the night. There were straberries to pick, cherries to pick, hops to train, raspberries to pick, hops to pick, blackberries to pick, beans to pick, apples and pears to pick, and berries to train. She would teach her son and her grandsons. She would bury her parents and inherit an old run down house a hundred years old. She would grow a few cucumbers, tomatoes, and plant a few roses. She would die with family, the greatest wealth she ever had. Even in old age she would be picking something.

    She would meet a man on a wheat ranch in a dry dusty place. They would marry, or did they? Who really knows for sure. They loved and lived until age took them home.

    The time was 1936, the woman was my grandmother, the son my father, the man my grandfather. She picked, my father picked, and I learned to pick. Recently, someone decided it was not safe to let young people pick, how strange, how sad. I still live in the run down house, now restored to a wondrous beauty my grandmother would be proud of. And from this place a new generation of pickers was born, working on blackberry pickers and ladders.

    We all scratch our lives from the dust of the earth. It is an ancient motif, an archetype of feminine culture. Some of us know it well. Others have become disconnected from the earth and the source of our being. I pray that we might all grow and harvest something. Life is just this way, planting, growing, and harvesting.