Migrant workers

Book pages 42-43

In South Florida I stayed with a white tomato grower who told me that he made almost a million dollars a year on the labor of these migrant workers - except for some years, when the crop failed. Later on I was kicked out when he discovered my photos of what he called "niggers":


- Now what is your main purpose? It isn't just touring... I wasn't born yesterday... I tell you the truth, you're from that civil rights stuff up North.
- No I'm just studying agriculture for a book...

- Well, if you stay with these slummy people, that's the kind of slummy book you gonna have, ain't that right? It depends on what kind of people you talk to. You say you talk to both whites and colored.
- I trust everybody.

- You will find colored people treated better here than anywhere in the United States. They are happy. I always tried to respect the honesty of these southern racists, so when my tape recorder later revealed that I in the heat of the argument had told him a lie I felt very defeated. I had at that time no idea that my photos would one day end up in a book.

Later I got to live with some of his field workers, who were blacks and fugitive Mexicans. Their situation is depressing, to put it mildly. Many are too destroyed to talk about their situation, but this woman, who was one of the few poor whites in the fields, told me in her little rented shack about conditions:

-Have you ever been on welfare or food stamps? - If I could get it I would, because I really need it. -How much does your husband make a week usually? - Not much, thirty-five or forty dollars a week, maybe. That don't hardly pay the rent and for something to eat. -And you work seven days a week?
- Seven days a week for 40 dollars, yes!
-Was there times where you had nothing to eat?
- There's been times where I had nothing, not even a cigarette. I've been down where I just had sugar, water and bread for three weeks. The people who ain't got it, they really suffer.

- But who would you blame for it all?
- The government. It is trying to starve us out. -You don't blame any of the people around here?
- No, I don't blame my people. I blame my government.
- I'm glad you don't blame the blacks or the Mexicans for it. A lot of people do, you know.
- No, this comes from the government itself. That's the reason there has been all the rioting and all this stuff... I've had my clothes and everything burned out three times.

 

Copyright 2005 AMERICAN PICTURES; All rights reserved.

 

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