By Alfonso Aranda, Children in the Fields Campaign California Intern
In tenth grade I accompanied my father to the walnut orchards outside of town. On one occasion I remember thinking, “Man, I must be the first person ever to work in the fields with an mp3 player!” The device, considered an expensive luxury for most farmworkers, came from a school raffle I had recently won. As we carefully raked the fallen nuts into the path of the approaching machine, I selfishly enjoyed my favorite songs…row after row.
In California’s Central Valley, an ordinary drive through rural roads finds endless fields of diverse agriculture. Feeding the mouths of people and animals around the world, the sunflowers, tomatoes, almonds, alfalfa, squash, watermelon, and infinite rows of corn are densely packed for maximum returns. Driving past a tomato field you may see a woman shielding her face from a wall of dirt with an old bandana— eyes left uncovered, just enough to see the fruits of her labor: tomatoes stained white with chemicals. Aboard “Las Máquinas” (the tomato harvesting machines), she will probably be accompanied by some of the area’s most recent high school graduates.
With no realistic job prospects due to a difficult economy, children of working-class families are finding no other alternative but to put aside their recently-acquired diplomas and head out to the fields. Now, having transitioned from their summer labor under the warm sun into the thankfully cooler days of fall, many are still working to harvest our next dish.
Music has long been used to help pass the time in the fields. Today, some of the music that helps to distract the wearied farmworkers is brought to the fields by more sophisticated electronics, some of which cost more than what the average worker makes in a full week. Regardless of the source of the music, we all learn to dance to the rhythm of the machine.
While these graduates are an unfortunate casualty of today’s tough job market and the acceptance of severe inequality, their diplomas are the key to escaping this cycle of poverty in their future.
To find out what you can do to support farmworker youth, become a fan of the Children in the Fields Campaign on Facebook.