Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In Response to "A new place to call home"

In response to: "A new place to call home."

I read an article this morning, and I felt a guttural need to respond.  I'm using my personal blog to do so, because I'm not sure how else to share it.  I fully understand that while some people may agree with my opinion, many will not.  That is okay with me.  To view the original article, you'll have to view the Dixon Tribune's FB page.

This morning I came across an article that had been published in my hometown’s newspaper.  I wouldn’t have seen it except that some Facebook friends had shared it, along with some pretty harsh and scathing opinions.  The article was titled “A new place to call home,” and it was about a new apartment complex that has been built to accommodate farm laborers and their families.  When I read the article, I was immediately brought back to my youth.  Images and memories flooded my brain, and I’d like to share some of them with you.

I grew up on our family’s farm on the outskirts of Dixon.  We farmed thousands of acres spanning through Dixon, Davis and Winters.  We grew nearly every vegetable, grain and melon you can think of.  I started working when I was eight years old, and knew how to drive a tractor before I ever sat behind the wheel of a car.  Farming is not for the faint of heart; the days, hours, weeks, months and years seem endless, and the physical labor is something that’s unfathomable to those who have never done it. 

If you haven’t read the article I’m talking about, I highly urge you to do so before continuing on with what I’m about to say.  I’m somewhat at a loss for where to begin, because this is a topic that has gotten people heated and impassioned since long before my parents were even born.  The blaming and criticizing of migrant farm workers for California’s economical duress can be seen at a microcosmic level dating back to the Great Depression.  It truly baffles me when I hear people say things like, “they’re taking all of our jobs,” or “no wonder our state has no money when those people keep having babies.”  In the comments of the article and on peoples’ Facebook pages, I read some really hateful and ignorant opinions.  What saddens me most is that the majority of people won’t even take the time to educate themselves, and so these feelings of animosity and hatred will just continue to trickle down through future generations.

The article touched on the idea that the farm laborers and their families are, for the first time, being given access to livable housing that they can be proud of.   The apartments are new, they are clean, and they are affordable to people that make very little money.  A couple of facts for you:  The California Agricultural Industry makes nearly 20 billion dollars in revenue each year.  Our country relies heavily on the agriculture that we produce in our beautiful state.  Farmers rely heavily on the hard, back breaking work that the Hispanic population provides, because let’s face it, the rest of the population isn’t willing to do that sort of work.  Even if we were willing to do it, you can bet your ass that we’d demand more than $6 per hour.  We’d also demand health insurance, because let’s face it, farm labor is hard work and it’s dangerous!  I’d bet the farm that most people complaining about this subject have absolutely NO IDEA what these laborers and their families go through on a daily basis. 

I’m starting to get angry again. 

The average agriculture labor worker earns approximately $11,000 per year.  Think about that for a second.  Imagine that the bread winner in your family makes a whopping $917 per month.  With that sort of income, where will you live?  What will you eat?  What sort of transportation will you use?  How will you visit the doctor?  How will you pay your electricity bill?  I can hear the arguments already: our taxes pay for these people!  That’s why our state’s deficit is so huge!  Ok, so let’s pretend for a minute that the laborers don’t exist.  Who is doing the work?  Who is physically keeping our Ag industry going so that our state can make 20 billion dollars in revenue each year?  I guarantee you that the people saying “maybe I should just become a Mexican farm worker so that I can live cheaply like them,” are not willing to do that work.

I’m about to share a dark secret with you from my childhood, about what it feels like to own a farm and to employ Hispanic workers; all the while going to school with their children, being friends with their children, and seeing the squalor that most of them live in.  Here is a memory that still haunts me to this day:
Taking the country bus home from elementary school, one of the stops along the way was to what I can only call a migrant camp.  These giant tracts of housing where my schoolmates were being dropped off were old and they were falling apart.  Each unit connected to the other was a single room in which entire families lived.  There was no grass, no flowers, no parks, only dry dusty dirt.  Their parents worked hard (I know because they worked for our family), and this was the best they could afford.  I felt guilty because I know their parents are working just as hard as mine, but they had nothing to show for it.  I felt ashamed because I know they are embarrassed to be dropped off at their “houses” in front of their schoolmates.  As one of the kids on the country buses, you were either the child of a farm owner, or the child of a farm laborer.  The dichotomy of this situation if you stop to think about it, is incredible.

What bothers me most about this topic is the lack of empathy that people feel for their fellow human beings and neighbors.  We are all here on this planet together.  Someone was excited when each of us was born.  Each of us feels happiness, sadness, joy and despair.  Each of us has worries about money and about providing for our children.  It doesn’t matter what language we speak or where our ancestors are from: we are all humans doing the best we can in this world, and in our lives.

For those of you who think that farm laborers are being given a handout and ultimately taking something away from you, I urge you to seek out the truth before getting angry.  I remind you that your children are friends in school, that you are sitting next to these “free-loaders” at church, and that they (like you) are just doing the best they can.  Because of these new apartments, a handful of families have the opportunity to be proud of where they live, and finally have something to show for all of the hard work they’ve been doing; and you have the opportunity to be proud of treating your neighbors and fellow-citizens with the dignity they deserve as human beings.