Over the last month or so, I’ve been to Florida for a service trip and to DC for the NYFL conference. I didn’t think they’d connect, but oh boy do I have so much more to unearth about intersectionality; I am humbled.
In Florida, I worked with East Coast Migrant Head Start, which is an arm of head start that works specifically with migrating families. A typical migrant family in the US spends their summer in Florida, or another scorching hot state, and then they pack up their life and drive up to Michigan for apple picking in the fall, then back down to North Carolina for berries in the spring, and the cycle continues year after year. It is HARD FUCKING WORK. The fields we drove by had men and women running down the rows, carrying barrels and bushels, to meet their quota for the day in order to be able to stay on budget and provide for their families. It’s competitive, and it’s even more unpredictable with the weather. These were some of the most empathetic, generous people I have ever met, even after 14 hours under a hot sun. Their children are placed in this lifestyle, though, and ECMHS helps provide them with a head start and early childhood program while not taking away from their family’s lifestyle, vitality, and income.
The speakers spoke on trans-rights for migrants (or even more generally, people without sustained healthcare) and the detriments that our exclusionary policies cultivate. They also spoke on the struggles of childhood as first generation Americans, Dreamers, and undocumented citizens. While listening to one of the individuals speak – a student from UCLA who works to protect the rights of immigrants in the area, and highlight the unjust practices of ICE – I was reminded of a mother I’d heard about while I was in Florida.
While doing a puppy dog puzzle with a boy in a classroom of two and three-year-olds, I chatted with the teachers who were working with students around me. One of the teachers had been teaching at that location for 13 years, and she knows all about every family who sends their children to that school. (Side note: The coolest thing about ECMHS is that they take a holistic approach to education, focusing on the family’s influence, health and well-being, financial advising, and more. They understand that you can’t leave your home life when you come to school… So they work to better both. Imagine turning every education structure into that? Ah. Amazing.)
When I got up to leave later on in the conversation, the teacher got up too, and told me that the boy I had just been working with was a single child, and is raised by a single mother. When ECMHS isn’t in session, she still works the same 14 hour days, but doesn’t have any help in watching her boy. She straps him on her back and picks apples just the same. She walks miles over the course of a day of work, and carries bushels of apples that weigh upward of 50 pounds, all with him on her back.
Talk about a damn strong woman and a damn strong backbone. The willpower it takes to want to provide for your child with all of these obstacles, but then to be a single mother… I cried when I first heard the story. I felt the weight on my back, and in my hands, as I was told about what she does 7 days a week, and not even for minimum wage, and I was overwhelmed. This is not in some far away, developing country.
THIS is in our own country, state, and maybe even town. Harrisonburg/Rockingham County… I’m looking at you.
Workers’ rights seem to be trickling down the drain under our current administration. We’ve taken leaps and bounds backwards on not only working conditions, but also our respect from our agricultural sector and its workers feels as though it is at an all time low. So much that happens for migrant workers slides under the radar – purposefully – to the advantage of the government and big-buyers like Walmart and Giant Brands.
Are we looking out for our people bringing food to the table for us? I want you to think about this when you are buying groceries next. Buy from reputable farmers. Look them up online! Be critical about your consumerism. Visit the farms you buy from… understand what conditions are like there.
If you are going to be a feminist, be a good one; don’t just look out for the feminists that look and live like you. Look out for the women (and all humans) at every corner of your society. Justice for all, not just for some.