I learned a lesson about the price of fruit and vegetables
in this county when I was a 27-year-old guy on the road. I traveled the US working odd jobs, living out of a used Ford Econoline
van which I had converted into a camper. I had an old guitar with me, and I remember times sitting around a campfire passing
around a jug of wine and singing together with people. I learned that people can be beautiful when they are singing. Of course
it wasn’t all fun; there was hard work, and many lonesome times too. But
I met sinners and saints along the way, and the experience of discovering America, Woody Guthrie style, helped to form my worldview.
In January of 1977 I found myself in the Imperial Valley of California working construction- until the jobs dried up and I went a couple
of weeks without a paycheck. I was getting hard up for money, and somebody suggested I could work on the harvest. "Just be
ready at the bus stop at 3:30AM and they take you to the field," somebody told me... So the next morning I found myself the only gringo on a bus full of illegal
Mexican workers. Teenagers in the back passed around reefers and listened to a boom box. Older people, some in their 40’s and even 50’s talked quietly. They looked tired and withdrawn, as
if focusing their energies for the strenuous labor ahead. Few spoke English, but I speak fluent Spanish, and they treated me courteously if not indifferently.
We arrived at an enormous field as large as a city; where rows of cucumber vines were as long as a football field. Some rows had been picked only a few days
before and hence had fewer cucumbers . Other rows were loaded with cucumbers.
Here the pecking order somehow came into play and I was assigned the thinner pickings, along with the stoned teenagers and
a couple of elderly campesinos.
But we got to work. They give you a ten-gallon plastic bucket
and a little card. When you fill the bucket, you carry it to the end of the row,
and give it to a guy on a truck, and then the foreman punches your card once. Then you take your bucket back and repeat the
process. On a couple of occasions, I brought in my pickings, and the foreman, a kindly old Mexican man, looked
around furtively and punched my card four times and motioned me to keep quiet. He was trying to help me because he knew my
row was more difficult to work than the others.
Around noontime, the sun got brutally hot. I was sweating
profusely, and dust stuck to me like mud. A flatbed truck came for us. We climbed on, and it brought us to the farmhouse.
Exhausted, we got in line. Two ranchers in cowboy hats were sitting at a folding table. When it was my turn, I presented my
card. One calculated it and the other guy handed me a little manila envelope.
Nobody had asked for a social security number, my identification, or even my
name. When I opened my envelope, there was 10 bucks and some change inside. So even with the foreman’s “help,”
I had earned about a buck an hour. Later, I had a splitting headache, a throbbing backache and a three-day bout with dysentery.
I didn’t see any criminals that day, only people trying
to make an honest buck. Everybody in the Imperial Valley knows that illegal aliens do this work. And the Border Patrol doesn’t bother them much when there is a crop in the field. Illegals are tacitly
legal, while they are needed. And when the harvest is over, they become lawbreakers again. It’s no wonder then that
Bush, and Clinton before him, refused to lift a finger on immigration reform. The status quo keeps wages down and increases
profits for their corporate pals.
So before we follow Howie’s and Savage Nation’s
daily exhortations calling them all bums, criminals, and parasites-and running them all out, we might ask ourselves
who will do this work. Whose jobs are they taking? Who wants their kid to have a career in a slaughterhouse? Or an assembly line. Or a meat packing plant. Or nursing home. Or fast food restaurant. Or a brake -lining
company. Or on a corporate farm picking cucumbers for a buck an hour?
Imagine a law that would create 12 million felons overnight-
like the atrociously conceived house version of the immigration bill which would create chaos, be unenforceable and necessitate
selective enforcement according to police discretion and political expedience. We need real immigration reform, not a reactive,
ham-handed approach, based on political posturing and rhetoric, but reform based on incentives for going through the system,
not around it. Yes, we need fortified borders, but we also need to resolve our own contradictions because while people want
on orderly immigration process with clear legal standards and respect for our sovereignity as a nation, “business as
usual” works just fine for America’s moneyed interests.
I suppose the New World Order will be setting us up for a
1930’s style depression one of these days. When that happens, I hope I never have to work in a cucumber field again.
But if I do, I’ll want to see Howie Carr and Savage Nation there with me. Then we can all be friends working the same
row. They say hard work never hurt anybody. I wonder if that’s true.