Everyday, countless Americans go to the grocery store without a thought of where their food comes from or if all those piled and stacked fresh fruits and vegetables are actually safe to consume. What if consumers really knew the efforts and the struggles that happen daily in the world of agriculture, behind the scenes? Would it change their perceptions?
In her book Under the Feet of Jesus, Helena Maria Viramontes seeks to challenge readers, presenting some of the issues concerning the plight of Latino and Latina migrant workers who harvest fruits and vegetable in the United States. She accomplishes this by depicting a ficticious Mexican-American family who uses their wits and determination to survive while working in the agricultural industry in California. The story is mostly told through the viewpoint 15-year-old Estrella, who along with her family members must work in extreme heat and dangerous conditions to harvest the crops that they are not freely allowed to consume themselves.
The facts are that many migrant workers often go hungry and go without the basics of daily living, such as decent housing, medical care and adequate food. Although many such workers may not be citizens, many are also born in the United states as citizens. These workers are often treated as outsiders, and whether legally in the country or not, are typically viewed with suspicion. In discussing these facts, Anne Shea and Dora Ramirez-Dhoore both examine the following passage from Viramontes’s book to emphasize this point. “Don’t let them make you feel you did a crime for picking the vegetables they’ll be eating for dinner. If they stop you, if they try to pull you into the green vans, you tell them the birth certificates are under the feet of Jesus, just tell them.” (63)
Many migrant workers who have traveled to the U.S to obtain work often find themselves in situations that put them in danger. They end up in run down homes, are exposed to pesticides, and rarely earn a living wage. They often earn eight to ten dollars an hour for grueling, dangerous work, barely more than minimum wage (Carr). According to Calisphere's Hispanic Americans: Migrant Workers and Braceros (1930s-1964) “During the 20th century, Hispanic Americans migrant workers, the majority of whom were Mexican Americans, comprised the largest minority group in California. One-half million Mexicans migrated to the United States during the 1920s, with more than 30 percent settling in California.”
In her book, Viramontes accurately depicts how Estrella and others like her struggling to survive in the harsh world of the migrant farm worker.
Works Cited or Consulted
Ramírez-Dhoore, Dora. "Permanent Transients: The Temporary Spaces of Internal Migration in Four 20th-Century Novels by U.S. Women Writers." The Natural World in Latin American Literatures: Ecocritical Essays on Twentieth Century Writings. Ed. Adrian Taylor Kane. 175-195. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010. Print.
Shea, Anne. "'Don't Let Them Make You Feel You Did a Crime': Immigration Law, Labor Rights, and Farmworker Testimony." MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 28.1 (2003): 124-44. JSTOR. Web. 3 December, 2012.
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