This is the title of a paper issued this month by Seth Holmes with an M.D. from the University of California at San Francisco, and a Ph.D. in cultural and medical anthropology from UCSF and U.C. Berkeley. His paper, “‘Oaxacans Like to Work Bent Over’: The Naturalization of Social Suffering Among Berry Farm Workers,” captures the grinding details of what it takes to get strawberries out of the fields in Washington State, and in the equally challenging task of figuring out what it all means — and what to do about it.
Find this paper on Salon.com. In the posted review of the paper you will find a link to a PDF file that can be downloaded with Acrobat Reader.
Holmes says: “I began my fieldwork in a one-room shack in a migrant camp on the largest farm in the valley, the Tanaka Farm, during the summer and fall of 2003. I spent my days alternately picking berries with the rest of the adults from the camp, interviewing other farm employees and area residents, and observing interactions at the local migrant clinic.
In order to understand the transnational experience of migrant labor, I migrated for the next year with Triqui indigenous people from the Mexican state of Oaxaca whom I had come to know on the farm. I spent the winter living with nineteen of them in a three-bedroom slum apartment, pruning vineyards, and observing health professionals in the Central Valley of California. During the spring, I lived in the mountains of Oaxaca with the family of one of the men I knew from the Tanaka Farm, planting and harvesting corn and beans, observing the government health center, and interviewing family members of migrant workers back in the U.S.
Later, I accompanied a group of young Triqui men through the night as they hiked through the desert into Arizona and were caught by the Border Patrol. I then migrated north again from California, through Oregon where we picked up false social security cards, and once again to the farm in Washington State in the summer of 2004. Since then, I have returned to visit my Triqui companions in Washington, California, and Oaxaca on several shorter trips.”
Many of the conditions he describes on this Washington farm have been outlawed in Oregon by an omnibus bill I helped introduce, as a lobbyist, to the legislature in the 1990′s. This bill was pulled together by a coalition of farmers and farm labor advocates and one dedicated legislator who actually composed the bill that was passed unanimously that session . I have a sneaking suspicion that he is letting the Tanaka Farms off lightly unless this farmer is unusual. Farmers are usually loath to allow outsiders onto their farms…one of the issues addressed in the omnibus bill. He somehow gained their trust. Very tricky.
Tags: California, Mexico, Oaxaca, Oregon, USA