Many years ago, our family was visiting the missions of California. We were traveling from Mission San Antonio de Padua (or San Miguel, I forget which) to Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. Since it was well off the highway we were traveling back roads. We were driving by huge corporate farms. As we drove by, we passed many people out picking the crops by hand. Many of the laborers appeared to be children. Then we drove past the migrant camp where they stayed. Not only was the camp almost uninhabitable, there were no adults in sight. It appeared that small children were watching small children.
When I got back home, I asked our parish priest, who had spent time tending to migrant workers, about what I had seen. What he told me has haunted me ever since.
I was correct that there were no adults at the camp, if it was a day good for picking. Even if it had been raining, there would have been only the very old in the camp. Most of the shelters are portable, like tents and adapted trucks. And yes, I had seen children in the fields beside their parents.
He said that when children turn seven or eight, they go out to pick. The babies are left with six and seven year olds in charge. The babies are tended by their siblings all day. They learn their language from six and seven year olds who never learned any language properly. (In other words, they don’t speak English well enough to get by and they don’t speak good Spanish either.) Of course, schooling is nonexistent. If a toddler gets hurt, it is up to his/her young sibling to figure out what to do, because the parents can’t afford to come in from the fields. There is not good water in the camp for anybody, and there is almost never enough to eat or wear.
Out in the fields, the water sources are far apart and there are few if any toilet facilities. The work is backbreaking, and goes on from first light to last light. The pay, of course, is worse than substandard.
At that time, one of my favorite songs became Woodie Guthrie’s Deportee:
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves and to rot on the topsoil
And be called by no name except
Deportee by Woodie Guthrie
Later I moved home to Colorado and worked with homeless children, which I covered in another diary. In both cases, this nation closed its eyes to vulnerable children in this country. I don’t particularly care whether it is the fault of the parents, although much of me blames the corporate farms for the migrant worker situation. I do care that the children did not ask for these circumstances, and the only thing they did to be in this plight was be born into the wrong demographic.
While I agree that there are other urgent and important issues to handle during this administration, is there some way we can find occasion to find a solution to these children?