Farm Strawberry Picker
DURING THE SUMMERS OF THE 1950’S, I WORKED AS A GARDENER ON A LARGE ESTATE COMPLEX ON LONG ISLAND’S “GOLD COAST.” THIS HOUSE INCLUDED A MAIN HOUSE OF 108 ROOMS AND FOUR OR FIVE SATELLITE HOMES FOR VARIOUS RELATIVES AND HANGERS-ON.
The grounds were meticulously landscaped and included a fruit orchard, three large greenhouses, a few acres of cut flowers, and a small farm for growing a wide variety of produce. There was also a horse stable and several acres of paddock.
The main house overlooked Long Island Sound, and the other homes were fronted by large lawns and surrounded by woods. To maintain the grounds, the estate employed a workforce of twenty-seven men plus a few high-schoolers like myself during the summer. In winter, this labor force was halved.
Many of the workers were immigrants, refugees from Central and Eastern Europe, so-called “DP’s,” displaced persons who were fortunate to win the immigration lottery and, eventually, U.S. citizenship. Most of the rest were first-generation Americans whose parents came largely from Italy and Poland.
I soon picked up words and phrases in various dialects, most of which I have forgotten, which is just as well, since they were largely expletives and ethnic put-downs.
For the most part, we all worked hard, “chopping” (hoeing) weeds, raking leaves, trimming trees and shrubs, planting, and mowing grass. Most of this was accomplished using manual garden tools. Gasoline-powered, portable tools were unheard of, with the exception of lawn mowers, but why buy them when you can pay workers 75 cents an hour to push a reel mower? It was during these summers that I gained great respect for anyone who toils for eight hours each day, earning the minimum wage, or often less in the case of today’s Hispanics, documented or otherwise.
The current refrain, among the ignorant, is that these “aliens” have taken jobs from “true” Americans like them.
Send them all back to Mexico (or elsewhere) and their places will be filled by citizens eager to get off the dole and back to work. The problems with this thinking are twofold: in general, the pay is too low and will not fulfill expectations of a middle-class lifestyle with all the bells and whistles of iPhones, Xboxes, and Air Jordans, among other must-haves; plus, manual labor is looked on as demeaning, as something that will not enhance one’s imaginary resume.
Already, in the wake of imminent border walls and other entry barriers, farmers from Florida to California are having difficulty hiring field hands to pick the crops we take for granted to be always available on grocery-store shelves.
As President Trump moves toward his goal of removing 11 million undocumented immigrants from U.S. soil, I can only imagine the fear his actions have generated among the entire Hispanic diaspora, documented or not. These people have been labeled, in effect, “enemies of the state,” a term I am hesitant to use, but it is, in fact, a truism.
More recently, the President has extended this label to Muslims through his recent and impending executive orders, even though his own Homeland Security department just released a report which found that a “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”
The President’s enemies list goes on and on: the LGBT community, public schools, clean water/air regulations, banking regulations, and those print and electronic media that disagree with him or call him to task for his questionable statements. His end game is an unregulated “free-market” economy, one where his “rapists and criminals” will not be found at border crossings but rather on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms, to say nothing of the keepers of his personal fortune most likely riven with potential conflicts of interest. But how are we to know when, for Trump, financial disclosure is a joke played on the American people?
I’ll close this missive with three apposite quotes:
- “Only the scum of the population” abuse or oppress immigrants [Mark Twain]
- “Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.” [Carlos Fuentes]
- “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” [Franklin D. Roosevelt]
Bill Britton is a Vero Communiqué Contributing Editor and a freelance writer for John Hopkins University.