by Maitri Pamo
Gracias a la Vida, que me ha dado tanto. My parents made their own Dream Act when they emigrated here from Guatemala. Through their determination and hard work, they ensured fulfilling lives for their children. Different lives from what my ancestors had. My paternal grandparents were farmers. I know nothing about their lives. But on boiling days like today, I think of them.
I also think of all those who work on the land and how difficult their toil must be with the sun as their constant, abusive partner. In the US, farm workers have a life that typifies the agrarian experience, especially when one does not cultivate one’s own land. A bill affecting American farm workers may soon be law in California.
A long list of problems exists for farmers. From my own experience as a veterinary medical student, having been on both large industrial farms as well as small family farms, I know that accidents are a constant threat. Working with machines and sharp edges can produce acute, traumatic injuries, as well as chronic problems such as joint, musculo-skeletal and respiratory damage and disease.
I recall being diligent about wearing masks around chemicals and fertilizers, but many workers do not have this protection. Pesticides, known carcinogens, are particularly hazardous. Workers have little recourse to resist exposing themselves to the poisons, and they have, for decades, been subject to dangerous chemicals.
Often without access to health insurance, workers suffer the ills associated with their work in addition to untreated dental disease. It can be assumed that for many, mental health and stress related challenges are enormous. Considering that many migrant workers are US undocumented workers, they may find themselves powerless against abusive or negligent working and living conditions.
Those farming parents also face the obstacles and worries about the effects of an itinerant life on their children, not to mention their educations. Without skills other than farm labor and with no substantial formal education, the options that these children have for changing their lives are very narrow if at all existent. A difficult life. A type of caste system within the US.
In California, SB 104 is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. The United Farm Workers are in favor of the bill. Caution should be exercised to ensure that intimidation and corruption do not trade authors and make the switch from abusive farm owners to abusive union leaders. One of the provisions of the bill would allow for a majority of signed representation cards within a bargaining unit essentially to elect labor leadership. Open, public elections could be sacrificed. The overall positive effects of the bill could be tempered if the intended goals, designed to advance the cause of humane treatment of farm workers is hijacked by self serving factions within the unions. The workers deserve honor from and scrutiny of any legislation that affects their ability to make a better life for themselves.
Contributor, Maitri Pamo.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.