Environment: Making it better wherever you are
It’s one thing to read about the plight of those in servitude, those who work as quasi-slaves, and those who are outright slaves. It’s another thing to get into their world, walk with them, talk with them, and even work with them.
Seth Holmes is a man whose heart moved him to find out what it is like to be a migrant farm worker in America. He wanted to learn about their journey, the actual journey, from Mexico to the vineyards of Northern California, to the fruit orchards of Washington State. He wanted to walk with these people, talk with them, get their stories, and work alongside them - in the grueling heat and in the freezing cold - straining his body in the challenging work.
Who is Seth Holmes and why would he choose to put himself through such an agonizing assignment? He’s not an investigative journalist. He’s a medical doctor who happens to be a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. He recently authored a book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies, based on his experience.
Here is the synopsis of Dr. Holmes' book:
Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies provides an intimate examination of the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants in our contemporary food system. An anthropologist and MD in the mold of Paul Farmer and Didier Fassin, Holmes shows how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and health care. Holmes’s material is visceral and powerful. He trekked with his companions illegally through the desert into Arizona and was jailed with them before they were deported. He lived with indigenous families in the mountains of Oaxaca and in farm labor camps in the U.S., planted and harvested corn, picked strawberries, and accompanied sick workers to clinics and hospitals. This “embodied anthropology” deepens our theoretical understanding of the ways in which social inequalities and suffering come to be perceived as normal and natural in society and in health care.
I listened to an interview with Dr. Holmes on Humanosphere. Again, it’s one thing to read his book, quite another to hear him tell his experiences, and listen to his voice.
Here’s my takeaway: America hasn’t gotten over its lust for slavery. Our nation was built by slaves. We still have the attitude that someone else can do the dirty work while we reap the bounty. In Dr. Holmes’ interview, he mentions that white people justify Mexicans doing the heavy field work because “they are built for it - close to the ground - stocky, tough and resilient.”
Such a statement reminds me of how we justified using African slaves to do all the hard work. We’d look them over on the auction block like they were specimens - well-muscled and showing stamina. We still view our fellow humans like they're a commodity. I once heard a white woman say that her husband, who owns a large landscaping company, picked up the phone to “order a few Mexicans” - she said it like he did it everyday, like ordering a pizza.
If you’re interested in working on a farm, here is an article from CNN Money, "Farm workers: take our jobs, please!" which tells who is actually willing to do this back-breaking work in triple-digit heat for minimum wage. By the way, a few months ago, I visited a fifth-generation farmer who runs a 10,000 acre farm in Northern California. I asked him if any white people ever apply for work. He replied, “I run ads every season. It’s been well over twenty years since a white person showed up.”
For those of you who just want the facts about farm workers in America, you can pour over this report from the National Center for Farmworker Health.
To find out how you can help farm workers achieve a decent quality of life, take a virtual visit to Farmworker Justice.