If you missed it this morning, be sure to take a few minutes to read this morning’s lead story over on the main Policy Watch site: “Twenty-first Century children, Nineteenth Century laws.” The article features a powerful interview with a young woman who describes the pain and hardship she endured for years as a child laborer in 21st Century America — something that, as remarkable as it may seem, remains perfectly legal more than a century after our country supposedly addressed it. Here is an excerpt:
Q. When and why did you start working? Was it your choice?
A. At the age of 8 years old I started working in cotton fields in Arkansas. When I was12-years old I started working in blueberry fields in Michigan, as well as working in the processing plant and various nurseries. I come from a family of migrant farmworkers; we were all expected to work at some point. I am not entirely sure why I started at a much younger age. But growing up I learned that we worked to help pay for bills, school clothes and supplies and also to learn a lesson. Both my parents met in the fields, they both knew how hard the life of a migrant farmworker was and didn’t want for that life to be their children’s. They made us work to show us exactly what was out there without a proper education and to motivate us to stay in school.
Q. What was your typical job and what would be a typical workday?
A. I worked mostly in the blueberry industry more than I did in cotton.
During the [blueberry] picking period our start time varied. Sometimes we entered the fields as early as 7:00 am or as late at 9:00 am and picked berries all day till after 6:00 pm. It seems easy, but imagine carrying a gallon bucket tied around your waist, and the more berries in it, the more it weighs and the tighter the string pulls on your hips. On days that it was hot, the soil would suck the air out of you and you would actually feel as if you were suffocating while picking the bottom berries. Mid-season, worms and Japanese beetles would be more active, often stinging you and getting inside your clothes and hair.
The second period was the processing, when most workers were shifted into the processing plant; la bodega. In here I did almost everything from making boxes, putting liners, feeding boxes to the machine, weighing the final product, stacking 30 pound boxes on pallets, grading in the line, washing lugs, and receiving incoming fruit. Again, our start time varied; if the season was slow I would start at 8:00 am and work till 8:00 pm. If it was a good season I would start as early as 5:00 am and work as late as 11:00 pm. I worked 7 days a week for 2-3 months straight. It was rare I got days off and my parents would not like it; the idea was that we came to Michigan to work, so it did not make sense to ask for a day off and lose a day’s worth of work.
Read the entire story by clicking here.