The oppressing heat drove me indoors the other night so I watched a t.v. show called Dateline. This particular show was about migrant families, who were legal citizens, but went north to follow the harvest. They picked blueberries in Michigan and cucumbers and got paid by the pound. This led to putting their young kids to work. More pounds, more pay. Other times they landed work howing out weeds in middle of acres and acres of produce, but with the introduction of “Round up” this part of the work experience dried up. No weeds, no work. I guess child labor laws don't apply to farm work.
This nomadic life is dictated by the economy in southern Texas. These folks lived on small farms and they had to hit the road for more income. Often times they would sell a cow at auction to finance their 1,500 mile trip to Michigan. They loaded up the family truck with food from the farm and this helped them eat along the way.
It was an interesting story because of the struggle people deal with on a daily basis. These kids would learn how to drive tractors at age 6 and would work all day picking the crop of the day. There was little choice if they wanted to survive. I did say this was in America didn’t I? I can only say I’m thankful my grandchildren don’t have to get out there and do that kind of work. These kids would leave school in early May and return a month or two after school started up again and their schooling suffered. One 11 year old boy was tested and the teacher said he was a full two years behind the rest of his class. One girl in the story did graduate from Michigan State and her motivation was the memory of those long hours in the fields.
Here on the reservation, we grew up dirt poor too, but thankfully we didn’t have to leave home for work like these migrant families had to do in the summer. Around here we found work with local farmers throwing hay for low pay, but did we ever get a big meal at noon time. We weren’t used to that much food. It was something usually associated with a Sunday dinner, but we earned it. As we got older, we worked at Skinner’s Nursery in Topeka for $1.00 an hour on Saturdays. One summer we somehow landed a job at the Post Office in Topeka. Larry worked in East Topeka; Eddie worked at the main post office and I worked at the North Topeka facility. We mostly helped the janitor with cleaning up the place. It was a good experience and it sure beat the heck out of working for farmers throwing hay in the heat. As I said we were pretty damn poor so this money we earned helped us buy clothes and that was one less worry for our mother, so I can understand to a certain extent why those kids worked in those fields.
But getting back to the story at hand, it is a sad story in a lot of ways. These kids don't have much of a childhood and it shows how bad the economic picture is in some parts of this great land.