A friend on the east coast recently asked for my perspective on immigration since I live in the west and I had to think about how to reply. I consider myself apolitical and have trouble with the labels of Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative and immigration seems to be a decidedly political issue. But after spending the week driving through the central California corridor of Monterrey, Salinas, Santa Cruz in this ‘bread basket’ of the world, I realized I do have an opinion: My thoughts about immigration are simple, practical and apolitical.
This is business.
This is money.
This is economics.
Were this the mid-nineteenth century, these are the ingredients for a civil war. For something close to minimum wage, mostly Mexican or Central American men and women spend ten to twelve hours a day bent at a ninety degree angle picking strawberries, harvesting garlic, lettuce, cabbage, kale, artichokes, grapes and the amazing variety of fruits and vegetables grown in central California. I watched these people as we drove by the miles and miles of fields and I wondered just how long I could do what they were doing.
An hour? Or thirty minutes?
We were told by one of the top garlic producers of the world who lives and works here that Nevada law requires him to offer jobs to all, not just the laborers he brings up from Mexico. Quickly learning the limitations of most Anglos to the heat, the posture and the tedium, the businessman made a video. After showing five minutes of the video to unemployed Nevadans, all walk away from the work. To a man and a woman, in close to twenty years, he has never had a non-Hispanic take him up on his job offer to pick garlic in one of his fields.
I think the immigration issue is analogous to the ostensible reason for the war between the north and the south in the Civil War which resulted in the deaths of more American soldiers than in the total of all other wars. The southern economy was based on slave labor imported from Africa; the northern economy was industrialized in non- agricultural manufacturing industries- the north had the cotton gin. The north therefore could afford to take the moral high road while the south was fighting for its economic life.
Simplistic and cynical?
Admittedly so but this immigration ‘issue’ is not simply California’s or Nevada’s or any of the states employing immigrant men and women willing to tolerate the extremes of heat and physical exertion required to feed the billions of people who are sustained by an extraordinarily small percentage of this earth.
Were these immigrants not bused in, who would do this work? This laborious back breaking labor? Unlike the southern economy of the mid-nineteenth century, the products of the agricultural industries of California, Nevada, Florida are consumed by the entire country- as yet, there has been no cotton gin, no way to mechanize production.
Denying these workers the basic minimum of food, housing and the other benefits of this incredibly troubled and blessed country of ours is in a word: Immoral.
I agree with you whole heartedly.
Years ago my mother and I picked strawberries under the sweltering heat of a June sun. This was done for our own family consumption and only for a half day. My mother suffered a heat stroke and I cannot begin to describe how difficult it is to pick berries all bent over in the summer heat. I got to go home and enjoy the fruit knowing I didn’t have to go out in the oppressive heat and do that work again.
I am not surprised that many will not take on that kind of labor. And yet I am so thankful that there are those that will. I can enjoy the comfort of strolling through an air conditioned grocery store and “picking” strawberries for my next breakfast,
These workers deserve so much more from us. The least of which is respect for their hard never ending back breaking work. To start the day out looking across an seemingly endless field of produce knowing that the next day will begin the same. They work so hard for a penance and minimal living condition. I will pay a few pennies more for strawberries, just to help raise some one else up.
Thanks for your comments about this post—‘comfort of air conditioning while selecting fruits’ yes! The whole immigration thing like so many moral dilemmas had become so politicized that the point- the human person-is totally lost.
Blessings on your day today!