Bow, WA- July 25, 2013 – How do we negotiate a false dichotomy that pits better working and living conditions for farmworkers against a call for viable local farms? For many of the farmworkers who are currently on their third day of their second work stoppage at Sakuma Brothers Farms, this false dichotomy ignores the simple truth, that the fate of the growers and the farmworkers are bound together.
The farmworkers contend that if they are treated poorly, and offered low wages, their performance as highly skilled pickers will also suffer, negatively impacting the growers. This is the core of their appeal, that their dignity should be made whole through fair trade wages along with common decency and respectful treatment at their workplace and homes at the hands of company representatives.
To gain a better perspective, it is important to understand what is at stake in this particular farmworker struggle. This past week Marco, an 8 year old resident of Labor Camp 2 has been keeping me company. The photographs featured in this article are taken from his perspective.
According to Marco and his friends, what they enjoy about living in the labor camp are simple things. They like that there is a forest behind their camp, and a park for them to play in. They like that they have the ability to pick blackberries to eat whenever they feel the urge. They also enjoy the food vendors who come directly to the camp as well as the “gabachos” who come to give away food and trade candies for hugs. They like living in the labor camp, they just wish that their cabins came with bathrooms, because the out door latrines are scary in the dark. The youth said that when the summer harvest ends, they usually go to live in an apartment where they spend their time indoors, and that some families go far far away.
Marco reports that his parents are not working at the moment. He claims that it is because there is a problem. He said that his parents are not treated nice, that some people are mean.
The treatment that the parents of these youth receive at the workplace and in their homes shapes in turn the way that the youth are treated, and the way that the youth treat each other.
Astute observers, after everyone goes home, the youth role play the behavior that was modeled by those who came to their camp from the outside. Whether that behavior was charity, disrespect, racism, or perhaps dignity.
On my way out last night, I saw Marco and his friends play in the empty grass field at the entrance of their home, where an encampment had been erected earlier that day, the youth were waving picket signs that read “respect,” pumping their fists and chanting “¡SI SE PUEDE!” yes we can!.
This is what is at stake.