painting a school for migrant workers in Imokalee, a town about fifty miles east of Naples in the heart of the agricultural district in S. Florida. It’s the area that grows many of the vegetables you eat in winter.
What I learned about the migrant worker situation was that many migrant workers are in the US not because their poverty at home (Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, etc.) is so desperate that stoop labor in US fields is the only way they can live. Rather, the pay they receive is so high compared to their native countries that working for four or five years alllows them to return home and set up businesses. They manage to send home about $250/week to countries where the average yearly wage is $800. After their work in America ends, they take the money to move from poverty into the middle class.
I asked the man in charge of the school and housing for migrant workers if that meant the population changes every four years. He said yes. I was always under the impression that hopelessness and despair drove them northward and they never returned. The poverty does drive them, but they return relatively wealthy. After four or five years of work they go back and don’t return.
The migrants have no insurance (they are counted in the uninsured census we hear about all of the time), but they have access to free medical care in a clinic (a small hospital actually) they can use any time. They stay in homes (some appallingly run down but others adequate for a family) that costs about $250/month. (The organization running this school and housing association has the food growers comprising over 50% of their board of directors. Clearly many of the growers are not the hard-hearted and greedy charlatans they often are portrayed to be.)
Migrant children are allowed free education in US schools, but because the migrant population is so transitory (they move to wherever the work is because they want to earn as much as they can as quickly as possible), their children don’t learn as well as they would if they remained in one place. In recent years, more families stay home while the husband comes up alone to work. (His rent averages $120/month.)
What I learned is that the migrant situation replicates the experience of almost every other immigrant group in America. They come to America because of the opportunity this nation provides for a better life.
There are others points worth pondering as well. For example, despite the tremendous physical hardship the migrant workers endure, many migrant families manage to stay intact. There is usually a Catholic church near the migrant camps that serves the families. It’s a stark contrast to American poverty which is more a function of family breakdown rather than a scarcity of goods and services.
Also, there is something honorable in their work that we can admire.
Anyway, we got the school all painted.