Invisibility in the Fields

This is the second dispatch from Student Action for Farmworkers in celebration of National Farmworker Awareness Week. For more information, visit the SAF website.NFAW InvisibilityAs I think on an issue to write about it’s challenging to think of just one single thing because issues concerning any type of oppression are multifaceted making them structural in such a wide variety of ways. Can I talk about access to healthcare without talking about wage theft or food deserts? Can I talk about food justice without talking about immigration, or capitalism or the history of the South? Can I make this a blog without making it a book? Because that almost doesn’t feel right.

But as I think about what issues to address, invisibility keeps coming to mind. Invisibility like a curtain being forced down.  And as such there’s invisibility in missing narratives by how the media fails to portray different groups of people or by always portraying them in a certain light or by seeing people as one dimension.  Invisibility, in how the food justice movement so often fails to see the workers and harvesters of food.  So often they talk about pesticides in relation to the consumer or the environment but often neglect to fight for the workers going out into recently sprayed fields. Workers who talk about rashes or other reactions they have had to the pesticides as if it’s a given, and not something that is an inhumane decision of the grower, who chooses capital over the well-being of workers.

Invisibility, as in the isolation of fields and farmworkers, the geographical isolation as camps are set back away from the road, but also invisibility in the sense that so few talk about the many hands that plant and harvest our food, invisibility in the sense of workers hitting so many roadblocks as they try to access services at the health department, or as laws designed to protect worker rights deliberately exclude farmworkers. As we drive to farm after farm there are little reminders of the history of agriculture work in the South. That history both changed and unchanged with vines reaching out into present day agriculture work. Invisibility, that comes with the belief that at some point we became a country post-our-own-history.

This summer I am incredibly grateful to SAF, my placement site, all of the other interns/fellows I have been inspired by, and to all the farmworkers and farmworker families I’ve had the pleasure to meet and talk with.  I have learned so much and my eyes have been opened in ways that cannot be expressed here. Just as all of the issues surrounding farmworker justice are multifaceted so are all of the solutions. I am so proud, inspired, and humbled by every intern/fellow that worked hard these many paths, working toward accessible healthcare, education, legal aid or policy change. And I am also so inspired and humbled by everyone, whose very act of survival in this society is a revolutionary act. To every farmworker who has in any small or large way claimed a space of survival for them and their family, a space of collective knowledge and of community, of dignity and of livelihood.

On this ground of deep history and in this society that constantly pushes invisibility or a single-colored lens onto issues and people… in this space, there are constant claims to humanity. And if there is anything that I have learned this summer it is of the history and many issues tied to farmworker justice, but it is also the many ways in which farmworkers are claiming a space of dignity and justice.

Silvana Marr-Madariaga, 2015 SAF Fellow
Good Samaritan Clinic