When I was about six, my mother (newly widowed), my brother, and I moved to Arizona seeking a fresh beginning. She was a young woman, daughter of a French horn player, not yet 30, a Christian Scientist, and optimistic about the future in her grief. She had been a secretary in New York in the 1940’s but she needed change. Arizona seemed as alien a world as she could find. An acquaintance suggested she try working in agriculture: trimming, washing, and packing produce to tide her over.
I remember the excitement (we must have really needed the money) seeing the brand new question mark shaped knife she had bought for the job. It was an inside job not in the fields under the unforgiving, cyclops sun. The excitement was short-lived. At the end of the first day my mother came home a flushed and defeated woman. I forget the exact details after 60 years, but I remember most of her conversation with my aunts.
She couldn’t keep up with the line, she got moved around to different positions, her lower back began to ache, she cut her finger, but stayed through her shift and left in tears. She went back one more day. She wasn’t a quitter but never went back again.
My mother was a tough woman. She had more grit and determination than John Wayne, whom she admired. She could debate politics until her opponent was near tears: she was compassionate. Years later she retired as a grey-haired legal secretary.
So, when I see articles claiming that migrant workers taking jobs away from able-bodied American citizens I remember the anguish of failure in her face. Maybe she wasn’t as tough as I thought. As I pass by the fields of the Oxnard plain near San Buenaventura and see the farm workers, stooped, harvesting strawberries and celery. I know who the tough ones are: they are the gypsies of the harvest and they move as the crops ripen. In case anyone is looking for work I’m attaching an application for anyone tougher than my mother who needs a job.