The year is 1941 and these are the children of Migrant Farm Workers in California.
Picture credit: Library of Congress, Robert Hemmig.
As you sit to eat each day, do you ever think about where the food on your table comes from?
Perhaps not, but maybe you should.
The United States has millions of Migrant Farm Workers whose sole means of survival, is to put that very food on your table.
And how do we thank them for this life-giving nourishment?
The truth is not very pleasant, nor often even humane.
The work that they do is back-breaking, with very low pay or sometimes, even no pay.
They have no health insurance and few rights and even fewer who care what happens to them at all.
Yet, without these Migrant Farm Workers who suffer in silence, we would have nothing, or very little, on our dinner tables in America.
I know of no one who would do the work that they do, no one!
If they are lucky, they and their children will hopefully survive it all.
As most of you who follow my two Blogs know, I lived in Southern California for over 30 years.
My education was in Anthropology, and my opportunity to learn about Migrant Workers came easily because of these two facts.
My last semester at CSUN was a rewarding one, the hard part was all done and the classes that remained were ones that gave me the chance to study what really meant the most to me, people.
Over the years, I had met and become friends with many Hispanics in California, some were legal residents, many were not, but they were all the same to me, kind, warm and family loving people, that I enjoyed being with and knowing.
The first “free study” Class that I did was about the Migrant Farm Workers who lived and worked in Southern California.
I spent countless weekends for six months, all over LA talking to and learning about, the way these people lived and worked.
They were so forthcoming in offering me the chance to understand the hard lives that they and their families lived.
In these interviews, the people who talked to me were always men, their wives and children were still in Mexico and they sent them as much as they could each week.
This was the saddest part of the lesson learned, many times the men would get onto trucks and work for an entire day in a field somewhere, only to be dropped off and told that they would be paid the next day.
But, that never happened they said, because the next day the nasty people who did this, always chose another street and another group of unsuspecting victims.
Usually, these men lived as many as 8-10 to a room, sharing what they had, just trying to survive and send money home.
They were victimized by “legal” Americans who cared nothing for them of their families, but only used them.
The workers of course, could not complain, as so many of them were not here legally and those who cheated them, were quite well aware of this fact.
This was in the mid 1990’s.
What I did not know about at the time of these interviews, was all that had been done to those who came before them.
Migrant Farm Workers coming to pick food in California began shortly after the two World Wars, first in the early 1900’s and then later, in the 1950’s, with the Bracero Program.
California advertised everywhere to bring people there to pick the exploding orange and fruit harvests for the owners who were desperate for pickers.
Those who came, were promised many things and in the beginning they were treated fairly well.
Although unbelievably, I just learned today, they were sprayed with DDT at the Borders.
But then later after the worker shortage slowed down around the mid 1960’s, things began to change and conditions for the pickers became most unbearable.
Just about this time, Cesar Chavez began his lifetime of dedication to improving Farm Worker’s Rights.
He would fight this good fight, until his death and made such a tremendous difference in their lives.
But silently waiting in the dark shadows all during this time was a sinister evil that few suspected, until it was out of control.
Pesticide poisoning was now rampant among the farm workers, their families and the places where they lived.
There is a small town in the San Joaquin Valley, called McFarland, where not so long ago, the rate of leukemia among the children there under six, was nearly 80% and many blamed this on the over use of pesticides throughout this entire farming region.
This town is right smack in the middle of the Big Valley, which we Californians jokingly called the “salad bowl of America” because just about everything in a salad came from there.
What no one talked about back then, however, was the amount of pesticides and the harm they caused, used everywhere in this Great Valley, that all of this wonderful food required to be delivered to America’s dinner tables.
The people who bring you your food and their families, have paid a great price for this, many paid the ultimate price.
So, now that you know the true cost of your food, perhaps the next time you and your family sit down to dinner, you may say a silent thank you to the Migrant Farm Workers who brought it to you.
Places to learn more:
How To Better Protect Farmworkers From Pesticides
Protect Farmworkers From Pesticide Poisonings
California goes mobile to educate farm workers on pesticide safety
Pesticides and Childhood Cancer
Florida Farm Workers Allege Pesticide Exposure Is Giving Them Cancer
A Poisoned Culture: the case of the Indigenous Huicholes Farm Workers
Farm Workers Demand Protections From Pesticide Poisoning
Long-awaited EPA pesticide protections a ‘mixed bag’
Farmworkers plagued by pesticides