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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.


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