Mexicans feeding Americans, Americans serving man

This has to be one of the most righteous agricultural help wanted ads ever. Since no phone number or address is given, it may be too good to be true, but take a look:

Strawberry pickers needed (Monterey county)

Looking for strawberry pickers, we don’t discriminate. Vets, black, hispanic’s, whites, no matter what race. Paid minimum wage with no benefits and no paid vacation. 

Hop on in; there’s always more room in the Salinas Valley Low Rider for friends of all races and military or civilian backgrounds. Saw shit in Nam? Peace train, holeh moleh, there’s work for you too, brother.

Whoever posted this ad is probably the least racist field crew boss in California. Golden State agriculture is swarming with racists, of course. The swarm includes a front-of-the-house staff dedicated to public relations, properly called propaganda, about how only Mexicans are up to the job. These propagandists are better writers than the publisher of the help wanted ad above (“hispanic’s: an English-language plural”), and that’s part of the problem. They’re slick. They’re slippery.

They’re bad for the country.

As things stand, we’re in a bit of a Catch-22 vis-a-vis farm labor and mass immigration from Latin America. The growers and their foreign labor pool have us all by the balls, or would like us to think that they do, in any event, because a very large part of American agriculture as it is currently structured would grind to a halt if the Mexicans disappeared. The objective truth of the matter is extremely tangled and nuanced: for example, I, cracker, work in the fields, and I’m far from the only white boy who plies these trades in Oregon. The matter of Americans not wanting to take farm jobs in the Salinas Valley is complicated by the rule of thumb that the jobs pay minimum wage and involve riding to work sites on a shitty old thirty-foot school bus (the kind that looks like it was abandoned by Mendocino County hippie transients) with a porta potty in tow. This horseshit is on top of the very nature of the job being backbreaking stoop labor. Then there are the fields, some of them also in the Salinas Valley, where crew bosses are notorious for sexually extorting and raping female subordinates. Rape has nothing to do with picking lettuce, or at least it shouldn’t, but the regime in these places is totally lawless.

We grow our vegetables this way because we choose to do so. There are proven cultural practices for growing vegetables in greenhouses, both in soil and hydroponically. High tunnels can significantly extend the growing season in regions with cool or cold winters for a fairly modest capital cost. There are huge hydroponic vegetable industries in the Netherlands and around Delta, BC, two places that are much wetter than the powerhouse agricultural valleys of California. But let’s face it: the biggest attraction of the Salinas Valley at this point isn’t the water supply; it’s the wetback supply. (What, I’m the insensitive one for using that kind of language? I don’t rape Mexicans.) Being able to grow outdoors all year cuts down on capital costs for greenhouses and high tunnels, and the much of the cost of the water supply is offloaded onto the federal and state governments. The United States, unlike Canada, doesn’t do workplace labor law enforcement (whatever immigration sting you just heard about at some Kansas meatpacking plant is an exception that proves the rule), and the Mexican menial labor network in the Salinas Valley is exceptionally large and well-developed. Exploiting Mexican peasants in Greenfield is cheaper than not being able to routinely and wantonly exploit rednecks in Cottage Grove or Chehalis because they’d quit and then badmouth the joint to all within earshot. Tacoma has an inexpensive and reliable supply of hydroelectricity, but many Tacomans would be uppity, too; quite a few of them are black, and there are historical reasons why blacks don’t hesitate to call workplace exploitation by its proper name.

This arrangement aggressively screws over Anglos, both white and black. (If your family has been speaking English exclusively for three or four hundred years and has no idea what it spoke in the old country, you’re Anglo.) Affluent and even generationally wealthy high-hats who make a living by disingenuously playing labor off against itself along ethnic lines sometimes suggest that Americans (not themselves, mind you; lesser Americans) adopt the work ethic, family life, austerity, and peer networking engagement that makes Mexican and Korean immigrant families so successful. Keep in mind that these high-hats are not hotbunking in the barrio and putting up with all the aggravation that that entails; you see, they have “skills” and “training” and “education,” and apparently the juice to land think-tank jobs telling their inferiors how to become a more useful peasantry in imitation of the nice foreigners.

Maybe I should also mention all the Patels living behind sliding motel lobby partitions in every provincial shithole where you wouldn’t expect to find Indians (not the Old World kind, at least), but that’s the motel business, and I’m an agriculturalist by temperament. It’s worse than that in agriculture, too, because of the Spanish language thing. There are enough unacculturated Mexicans with little or no English proficiency in the fields (thanks in large part to the strategic nonenforcement of labor laws) that Spanish is the main workplace language. The result is situations in which foreigners who can’t speak English get hired without authorization to work in the United States and then everyone else on the job is expected to know Spanish in order to communicate with them. Requiring Spanish proficiency for these jobs is an excellent way to disqualify Mr. Gringo, who may have learned some in school but probably not a whole lot of it. In particular, it screens out the rednecks, who were and are too busy or tired or uneducated or maybe dimwitted to master a second language on top of their work and family obligations. Conveniently, these are the same crackers who might remember enough about union representation at the sawmill to demand a pay raise and some fucking respect in the strawberry fields.

Instead, managerial duties fall to a relatively small cohort of striving bilingual Mexican immigrants and their native-born children. Most of the nonsupervisory employees, meanwhile, don’t speak passable English. They can’t explain themselves to Americans when they’re in trouble, and many of them are intimidated by their own illegal immigration status as well. This is how middle management gets away with raping the grunts on company property and company time.

In fairness, an increasing number of Anglo growers speak excellent Spanish. This is a big help for themselves and a godsend for their most vulnerable line employees–unless the latter are non-Spanish-speaking indigenous people. The caste system abides.

I’m getting an idea of how this works out for the native-born American working class by looking around the neighborhood where I’m currently staying in Northeast Salem. It’s a mixed-race neighborhood, roughly half white Anglo and half Mexican. And when I say white, I mean white: there are hella gingers in the working-class parts of the Pacific Northwest. (That said, it isn’t as impressive as the grocery store I once stopped at in Topeka where everyone else was either pale-ass burnt Irish white or dark chocolate black.) One thing I’m noticing in Northeast Salem is that most of the people I see bicycling or walking appear to be Americans. They’re either white or, if mestizo, too acculturated to be taken for obvious Mexicans. Nobody in this neighborhood bikes recreationally; it’s white, but not White, and the commercial parts on Silverton Road and Lancaster Drive are asphalt hellscapes.

That is, these are people who don’t own cars. The Mexicans I see around here drive; some of them probably take the bus, although Cherriots (yes, that’s the name of Salem’s municipal bus system; the rural system, I shit ye not, is called CARTS) is piss-poor for a metro area of two hundred thousand, with no service at all on weekends. Most of the Americans drive, too. The carless underclass, however, is native and acculturated.

But hey, it’s only the Mexicans who need to get to farm jobs on country back roads. That’s why we have Mexicans: so that the natives can go soft. Not very many of us want to go soft, I have to assume, and even some of the morbidly obese ones are tougher and more resilient than they look at first glance. But as our betters remind us, we aren’t stepping up to the plate to learn Spanish for the workplace (they’re learning it to talk to their maids) and, I dunno, network down at the corner bodega to see if there’s work for a cracker. They aren’t trying to score their own jobs through some ethnic network, mind you; they got teh education in order to avoid having to do that, unlike the uncompetitive masses who never went to college. The rest of us are the ones they expect to learn Spanish in order to contend for jobs picking fruit. In their own lives, they consider Spanish a useful skill for communicating with their maids in bed (don’t ask me why Arnold Schwarzenegger chose such a homely one). If the rest of us won’t learn workplace Spanish in the hope of getting menial, seasonal work in our own counties, it must be because we’re lazy and stupid.

Let me explain the car thing another way. Sex and the City is not why Americans are living in cities and driving less. That show isn’t even about New York as most New Yorkers understand it; it’s about maybe a third of Manhattan and a few nearby neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Jersey City. The same thing is true of Girls. These shows describe barren yuppie chicks and equally barren quasitrustfunders trying to hack it in a saturated arts scene (except for the one girl who works as a caretaker for the elderly and is mostly trying to avoid getting fucked up on drugs all the time). They don’t describe Grand Concourse or Riverdale or Woodside or Sheepshead Bay. They don’t describe anything on Staten Island (although you can’t trust the descriptions of diaspora Staten Islanders, either).

Most American city slickers don’t live in New York City. Or in Chicago, the Second City. Or in Los Angeles, which I guess would be the third city, if that isn’t San Francisco (nobody who matters gives a shit about Houston; sorry, Lt. Mahoney). I used to live in Philadelphia, which is pound-for-pound less egotistical than New York or Washington, but there have only been 1.2 or 1.3 million of us lately, and I’ve been away so long that it’s starting to feel alien. (Shit, most of Pennsylvania is getting that way for me.) San Diego, the Finest Shitty (hey, I didn’t vote for Filner; they did), is about the same size.

Then there are all the cities the cool people can’t be bothered to consider. I’m not trying to put a sick burn on anyone by explaining that Cottage Grove has a municipal government, or for the love of the English language Vergennes, Vermont. No. I mean places like El Paso, Colorado Springs, Bethlehem, Salem, Rock Island. Ad nauseam. You may be sick of these lists already, but realistically, you only came for the Dubai Porta Potty; I keep an eye on the stats. These are cities that have mass transit, although probably a half-assed excuse for it. If the buses don’t run on Sunday, you’ll be hoofing it. You’ll probably be hoofing it anyway because the service is so crappy.

Or maybe because the neighborhood is small enough. Take your kids for a walk on Lancaster Drive. Tell Xavier to stop playing with the landscaping pebbles next to the Starbucks drive-thru. Walk over to the Rite-Aid and buy some pork and beans for dinner. Grab a little Section Eight and some food stamps if you can; God knows Bougie is naming and claiming a lot more than that measly mess of pottage. Walk over to the Walgreen’s for some hot dogs and potato chips and beer. Down at the corner–you do realize that hasn’t been CCR’s corner in decades, probably never was, and it never will be again with all the money they make whoring themselves out for drug store commercials–of happy and healthy, or so we’re told. Learn to play the guitar; maybe get a blister on your little finger; maybe give your baby-daddy the finger during a shouting match in front of the Walgreen’s. John Fogerty doesn’t get his groceries at neighborhood drug stores, but you and your people do. It’s how the native poors roll. You shoulda learned to play them drums; maybe then you’d be that little faggot with his own jet airplane and not some Arco pump jockey hoofing it around Northeast Salem. In a world as troubled as ours, it’s nice to know that a Jewish Scotsman sang such a prescient ditty about Kanye West.

Disclosure: there’s worse white trash than this in McMinnville. I’ve worked with them. Ginger wigger getting up in everyone’s face on a minimum-wage stoop labor job in a nursery bed, and his carpooling buddy with the spoiler on the trunk of his red Civic shoving a finger into a colleague’s chest on the job site just because he felt like putting the ass into assault. I suffered through it for the Social Security credits, but there were no Social Security credits, just contributions. And memories.

The oil supply and car financing situations can’t be that bad yet, since the buses haven’t started rolling down Burnside Avenue late at night again to pick up the skid row fruit tramps. Before we had Mexicans pick our crops, we had gutter drunks do it.

Things could always be worse, except at the job sites where they already are. Word on the street is that you’re doing all right working the citrus and avocado crops if you’re still alive. Miraculously, I can’t think of a story of the date groves killing field hands, and that’s Joel Salazar’s old fiefdom.

One does not simply become fucking stoked to go to Coachella, unless one has been assimilated into Whitey.

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