- Politics and Social Issues
No Justice for Migrant Workers
It's never "illegal" to be a person
The next time you’re at the market and pick up a pint of beautiful California grown strawberries, I want you to think of Maria Isavel Vasquez Jiminez. In 2008, at the age of 17 Maria found herself pregnant, but instead of like the show, 16 and Pregnant, she was a migrant worker in the strawberry fields. It was a very hot day and as usual Maria had no access to fresh water for drinking or washing her hands. Field workers count themselves among the few and lucky if they even have an outhouse nearby.
Maria collapsed on that beautiful sunny day; two days later her and her unborn child were proclaimed dead. The reason for her senseless death was a heatstroke. Maria was cheated out of the happiness of watching her baby grow.
Picking strawberries takes a gentle touch. At only 12 inches tall, farmers must stay in a bent position the whole time they are working, which on average is 12 hours a day. Some corporations pay by the hour but many pay by the number of berries picked. Either way the average income for an entire season is only $8,500. In Mexico, field workers fare far worse only receiving three to six dollars a day. No matter where Maria worked- US or Mexico- she wouldn’t have been provided with healthcare from her employer, even though exposure to pesticides is dangerously high. Strawberries are covered with 25% more pesticide than lettuce and 50% more than grapes.
If Maria had been allowed to live, her back would have without doubt hurt, her hands would be covered with bumps and her lungs would burn from all the chemicals. Her child would attend school in the Pajaro Valley of California where most strawberries in the US come from. Here, only 26% of students meet proficiency standards in English, 31% in Math and 27% in history and social science.
95% of the students have parents working in the fields.
80% of these children are below the poverty line and eligible for a subsidiary lunch program.
51% of high school students drop out.
These families come here in search of a better life; thinking about our own ancestors, isn’t that why we all came here? So how come some of us are allowed to move up the ladders while others remain trapped and oppressed stuffed into the worst schools, the worst jobs, and blamed through false stereotypes. Corporations run this country and they don’t take feelings into account, they work with dollar signs in their eyes. The strawberry industry is not exempt from these greedy CEO’s, always thinking of ways to increase profit so their families can continue living in huge homes left empty while vacationing in the Hampton's.
When fruits are affordable consumers are happy to purchase, profiting the larger figures dictating the abusive lives of innocent field workers. Blinded by the ease of our modern lifestyle, we so often don’t see the cruelty being inflicted upon the "help". So the next time you enjoy a juicy California strawberry, give thanks to Maria Isavel Vasquez Jiminiz, the sweet young girl who lost her life so you could eat it.