Sunday, March 26, 2006

Good to See 

The Hispanic demonstrations across the US are good to see. It is public relations in reverse. An oppressed and long-silent minority is standing up for rights it should have had long ago. It will be interesting to see if their message is heard.

I have a soft spot for Hispanics, not because I grew up in California farm country side by side with them. I, as did other high school and college kids of Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley, worked in the fields alongside migrant workers. It was a way to earn money, but it was hard and miserable. No one should look down on anyone who can do stoop labor for 11 hours a day, six days a week in 103-degree Fahrenheit weather. The men I worked with (and they were all men) were ill-educated and probably illiterate, but they knew how to pace themselves and to turn their hands to what needed to be done. Hour after hour with my back screaming in pain I labored to keep up with them. They took pity on me and helped me finish my rows when I fell too far behind. They laughed at me too and taught me all the worst swear words one could utter in Spanish because they thought I wouldn't know the difference. (To tell the truth, I had studied enough to know what they were doing.) But they were good people even with their faults, such as getting drunk on Saturday nights and losing their week's wages.

What bothered me then and now was how farmers treated them. They weren't slaves, but they weren't much better off. If La Migra rounded them up to ship them back to Mexico, the farmers would hire more. In my day, braceros were not provided housing, showers or sanitation. They lived in abandoned shacks near hop fields where I worked. I went home at night, black from the sun and filthy from dust, took a shower and collapsed into bed. They went to their windowless huts and slept on a floor. Yes, they stank, but we all stank after an hour or two. It made no sense then -- and now -- that farmers could not provide better conditions.

What was especially disappointing is that suburbanites a few miles from the fields went to supermarkets to buy fruits and vegetables and never considered the calloused hands that tilled the soil, planted seed, watered and picked produce. They never thought much either about gardeners who mowed their lawns or maids who cleaned their bathrooms.

The stoop laborers, gardeners, maids, dishwashers, cooks and mechanics are now standing and shouting. More power to them. Perhaps it will adjust our relationships with this vital part of the American public.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?