Woody Guthrie must have known that immigrants were more than just labels like “illegal” or “deportee.” In 1948, news of a plane crash at Los Gatos Canyon, in California’s central San Joaquin Valley, made headlines across the country, but while the four American crew members were identified by name, the 28 Mexican farmworkers who died in the crash were lumped together and referred to only as “deportees.”
Upon reading the New York Times’ account, Guthrie wrote his poem “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos” to protest the media’s failure to accurately report on and identify the farmworkers killed. “Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?” Guthrie wrote. “The radio says, ‘They are just deportees.'”
Tim Z. Hernandez, a California poet and author, was offended too. In late 2010, while researching archives for his novel “Mañana Means Heaven,” he came across the headline “100 Prisoners See An Airplane Fall From the Sky.” It was a story about the crash, and it changed the course of his career. He grew up in the farming communities of the San Joaquin Valley, and he connected with Guthrie’s poem because it echoed his own feelings of injustice for the 28 Mexican men and women who were left unnamed. Continue reading →
Across The Border. Performed by Linda Ronstadt – lead vocal, Emmylou Harris – harmony, from the Western Wall, Tucson Sessions album. With Neil Young – harmonica, Bernie Leadon – guitar/mandocello/vocal, Greg Leisz – steel guitar/bass/vocals, Andy Fairweather Low – guitar/vocals, Wix – accordion, Ethan Johns – drums. Song composed by Bruce Springsteen.
Editor’s Note: After spending two years among indigenous farm workers in Mexico and in labor camps in the United States, medical anthropologist Dr. Seth M. Holmes documents how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment and racism undermine their health and access to health care in his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. He spoke to NAM Health Editor Viji Sundaram.
NAM: Did you set out on this project as a purely anthropological endeavor, but which later changed into something more?
Holmes: Yes, as I said in my book, I set out as an anthropologist to do the classic field research method of participant observation with migrant farmworkers. I wanted to learn about indigenous Mexicans who come to the United States to work on our farms, about their health issues, and about how this group of people is perceived.
NAM: So how closely did you observe the indigenous farm workers?
Holmes: I started this research in rural Washington State, living in a labor camp and picking strawberries and blueberries along with them. We next moved to the Central Valley of California, to Madera, where we first lived homeless for a week in our cars, until we found a slum apartment willing to rent to people without a credit history. In Central California, we were not able to find much work; we pruned vineyards very intermittently. After California, I moved with them to their home village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, and lived in a partially constructed concrete home built piece-meal with money sent by relatives in Madera and Washington State. Continue reading →
“Whose parents are living in Italy?” asked the teacher as she stood in front of a first grade class in Cirpesti, a small village in southeast Moldova. With a mixture of pride and embarrassment about 20 of the 30 children raised their hands. I was shocked. I knew the statistics on labor migration and remittances. But the lives behind the numbers were staring me in the face as I stood in a cold, leaky classroom and learned that it had been years since most of these six-year-olds had seen their parents who were working 2,000 kilometers away as cleaning ladies or harvest helpers. This experience and others inspired me to continue my photography in Moldova. My images aim to look behind the statistics to reveal the impact of migration on families and society and ask how high a price parents and children pay for it.
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe. Forty percent of the people live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, more than one-third of the adult working population has left the country. According to official estimates, at least 690,000 of the 4.3 million Moldovans are living and working abroad—mostly in EU countries and in Russia—although the actual number varies according to different sources and probably exceeds one million. That makes Moldova one of Europe’s leading countries in labor migration.
The remittances that the migrant workers send home are a major factor in preventing the economy from collapsing. Yet labor migration has many downsides, including a “brain drain,” in which Moldova’s most active and educated people search for better economic opportunities abroad. Although many wind up working as unskilled laborers for low pay, this work still brings more than what they could earn at home. Migration also contributes to the disintegration of families and has torn the social fabric of Moldovan society. Whether in cities or the country, there is hardly a family in which at least one parent is not working abroad. In many cases, the children remain in Moldova and live with relatives, acquaintances, or even on their own. They often don’t see their parents for months, or years. Continue reading →
Los Angeles Times writer Hector Becerra picks boxes of strawberries alongside workers in a Santa Maria, Calif., strawberry field
He finds kindness and camaraderie with Mexican immigrants picking strawberries. But he falls far behind as his back tightens and his muscles burn.
BY HECTOR BECERRA
PHOTOS AND VIDEO BY AL SEIB
REPORTING FROM SANTA MARIA
May 3, 2013
About 30 minutes into my job as a picker, the strawberry fairy left her first gift.
On one of the beds of berries that seemed to stretch forever into the Santa Maria marine layer, Elvia Lopez had laid a little bundle of picked fruit.
She and the other three dozen Mexican immigrants in the field were bent at an almost 90-degree angle, using two hands to pack strawberries into plastic containers that they pushed along on ungainly one-wheeled carts.
They moved forward, relentlessly, ever bent, following a hulking machine with a conveyor belt that spirited away their fruit. But Lopez, a 31-year-old immigrant from Baja California, knew I was falling behind.
Marcos Hernandez lives and works in Chicago. He came to the United States from Mexico, after a life-threatening border crossing through the Sonora Desert in southern Arizona. Each month, he sends money to his mother in Mexico City to buy medicine for his brother, Gustavo, who needs a kidney transplant. The Undocumented, by acclaimed filmmaker Marco Williams, is Marcos’s story—as well as the story of countless other migrants.
But Marcos has another reason for coming to Chicago. He is searching for his father, Francisco, also an undocumented border crosser, who disappeared in the Sonora Desert while entering the U.S. Marcos’s hunt for his father forms the film’s central narrative thread.
Chronicling Arizona’s deadliest summer months, award-winning documentary and fiction film director Marco Williams (Banished, Two Towns of Jasper, In Search of Our Fathers) weaves Marcos’s search with the efforts of humanitarians and Border Patrol agents who are fighting to prevent migrant deaths, the medical investigators and Mexican Consulate workers who are trying to identify dead border crossers, and Mexican families who are struggling to accept the loss of a loved one. Continue reading →