The Vineyard and Immokolee

You all remember when our illustrious Governor Ronnie airlifted a couple of plane loads of immigrant Venezuelans to Marthas Vineyard.  It was a stunt of course meant to bring attention to himself in the white nationalist/neo-fascist base of the GOP.  He really wants to run for President.  Dyed Blond Don is already whining that Ronnie isn’t showing him enough deference and appreciation.

It was an obvious stunt because the immigrants weren’t even in Florida.  We do not have an illegal immigrant problem except for those who pick your tomatoes in Immokalee.  More about that later.

The Venezuelans were not here “illegally.”  They had no visas.  Any foreigner can turn up and any legal border entry station and request asylum from oppression.  Any Republican will tell you Venezuela is a Marxist dictatorship.    These folks didn’t cross the Rio Grande and sneak in.

Any asylum seeker is heard, fills out an application and can remain in this country until a Court decides his or her fate.  That’s the law.  Don’t like it?  Change it.  Ask your Republican representative when he last discussed immigration reform.

Back to our original topic.  Governor Ronnie had to go find “illegal” immigrants to ship to Marthas Vineyard.  We didn’t have any here in Florida so he went to Texas and borrowed some there.  Spent Florida tax-payers money to ship Venezuelans in Texas to the Vineyard.

In the process he pissed off a lot of Venezuelans living here.  Senator “little” Marco Rubio, our Cuban supported our Gov.  What a pig.  He conveniently forgets the hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees fleeing “Marxist dictatorship” who only needed to step foot on Florida’s soil to stay here.

Oh well.  Let’s take a quick look at just what part these immigrants play in modern America.   Let’s start in Marthas Vinyard.

“That island off the coast of Massachusetts is more accustomed than many places in the United States to welcoming an influx of South Americans. Not Venezuelans, but Brazilians. And not asylum-seekers lacking connections dropped from the sky, but labor migrants who follow friends and family across multiple countries.

Indeed, for decades Martha’s Vineyard has been a microcosm of much of our national hypocrisy with regard to immigration laws – violations that cross party lines. It’s also been a story of what immigrants contribute to communities when provided an opportunity.”

Replacing the mostly white college students who used to paint houses, make beds and party, thousands of Brazilians began arriving in the 1990s, prepared to work harder and reliably show up in the morning. By 2007, about 1 out of 3 children born on the island had a Brazilian mother, according to Massachusetts health data.

By 2009, local leaders testimated that of the year-round population of 15,000 at the time, around 3,000 were Brazilian.

Many Brazilian immigrants arriving on the island had entered the United States through the southern border with Mexico, crossing it illegally. Others overstayed tourist visas.  Not all were undocumented, but most lacked legal status.

All the summer residents, from world leaders to movie stars to tourists on day trips from Boston, who come to enjoy the island benefit from their labor.  Barack Obama visited the island and now owns a place there but was unable to promise overhaul of the immigration system when he was President   It will be years more before we can even try to imagine a US leader having the political will and congressional support to push immigration reform.

Meanwhile, a generation of children of Brazilians have grown up as islanders. There are marriages between immigrants and residents whose families go back generations in the United States.   Those who can have become US citizens. Portuguese is offered in the regional high school. All of the big island industries include Brazilian-owned businesses: construction, boat repair, landscaping, restaurants, cleaning, transportation and technology.

When news spread of the recent migrants being dropped on the island, members of the Brazilian community wanted to help. While some asked how these newcomers would find housing when there already was a shortage on the island, others offered their own homes.

At the start of a long and complex legal process, it is unclear where these Venezuelans will end up next. But the Brazilians on Martha’s Vineyard will remain on the island that they have made their home.

Here, in the southern part of Florida, maybe 30 or 35 miles from the money towns of Naples and Marco Island and in the same county as Mar Lago, sits another town, along “Alligator Alley”, where I-75, running south along the Gulf coast turns left and makes a bee line across the Everglades toward Broward County and Ft. Lauderdale.

About 35 miles from the left turn stands Immokalee, Florida – according to Wiki 71% Hispanic, 19% African American and the rest a smattering of whites and native Americans.  It’s one of those Florida places where tourists never visit.

What Wiki doesn’t mention is that Immokalee sits in the middle of the nation’s largest tomato growing region, providing 90% of the country’s winter tomatoes.  It is the place the migrants know very well.

No group of workers is as vulnerable to abuse as migrant farm laborers. They are often forced to work grueling hours in tough conditions for meager pay.  And, as a report by Oxfam America and Farmworker Justice documents, wage theft, sexual harassment and other abuses are widespread.  From 2000 to 2015, there were seven prosecutions for modern-day slavery in Florida alone.

It’s that vulnerability that makes the story of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers so inspiring. They’ve shown what can be accomplished when even the most marginalized workers band together to demand some basic human dignity.

And their work is beginning to help farm workers in other states.

Not too long ago, crew leaders often badgered and screamed at the workers, pushing them to fill their 32-pound buckets ever faster.  For decades, the fields here have had a reputation for horrid conditions. Many migrant workers picked without rest breaks, even in 95-degree heat. Some women complained that crew leaders groped them or demanded sex in exchange for steady jobs.

But those abusive practices have all but disappeared.  Many labor experts credit a tenacious group of tomato workers, who in recent years forged partnerships with giant restaurant companies like McDonald’s and Yum Brands (owner of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) to improve conditions in the fields.

“When I first visited Immokalee, I heard appalling stories of abuse and modern slavery,” said Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, a public policy institution in Santa Monica, Calif. “But now the tomato fields in Immokalee are probably the best working environment in American agriculture. In the past three years, they’ve gone from being the worst to the best.”

The current wage in Florida for immigrant tomato pickers is 47 cents per each 32 pound bucket.  The best workers earn perhaps $12 an hour.  To earn $12 and hour you have to pick 800 pounds of tomatoes in the hot Florida sun.

So, when you hear the likes of Trump and his MAGA mob shouting “Send ‘em all back!” bullshit, be prepared to do without salads and veggies.  Seems Republicans, both growers and buyers, have no problem using them to make money.  And Dems on the island had no qualms about using them as house keepers and painters.

If any of you out there want to pick tomatoes in Florida, there are positions available.  Experience has shown that, other than for the migrants, legal and illegal, there aren’t too many takers.

I could talk about meat packing plants in the mid-west but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

Few if any Americans will do these jobs.   Take a look, if you haven’t already at those cutting your grass, the roofers in your area, the house painters.  Lots of Spanish being spoken.  Next time you cut a tomato this Christmas or grill a hot dog, you can bet your sweet booty that an immigrant, legal or illegal, brought it to your table.



About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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1 Response to The Vineyard and Immokolee

  1. beetleypete says:

    Well done to those tomato workers for making a stand, though 47c a bucket is still not enough for that kind of labour. We have a serious issue here with agricultural workers. When the Boris government removed the right of EU migrant workers to remain indefinitely, they all went home. Now we cannot find any English people willing to pick fruit and vegetables in the mud and rain. So the companies just cut back on production, and increased most prices by 25%. Profit is still king in the UK too.
    Best wishes, Pete.


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