As a child growing up in farm county in Santa Cruz, California, I saw the trucks carrying the “braceros” to the fields. We drove past the shanties fieldworkers lived in, saw their laundry flying in the wind, saw the cars lined up in the fields as people picked strawberries, harvested brussel sprouts and lettuce, all backbreaking daylong. I heard people on the school bus call their children “beaners.”
Even then I could not understand that ignorance and cruelty. In the year between high school and beginning college, I took a job working in a carnation nursery, which may sound easy and perfumed, but was actually zoned agricultural. We worked 50-hour workweeks, beginning at sunrise and ending at dusk. Several of us bound for college had taken jobs there. For us, it was a way to earn extra money for books and clothes. But for the people I worked alongside, it was their life and they would never know anything else.
They worked to make a better life for their children. I have never respected coworkers more. Their lives were part of the American Dream as it continues to be woven, knitting together the strands of all of our lives. All of us. All Americans, whether born here or not.