I’d be lying if I told you that it never occurred to me to question the beauty of the countryside that I loved to explore as a young person of color in the South. Many people, like me, can’t help but admire stretches of crisp green plants that interchange with golden fields and eventually give way to pristine farm homes with freshly trimmed lawns. However, there is a deeply entrenched legacy of injustice and inequality that no amount of romanticizing or denial could remove from the reality of life in the country. But people like to forget and forgetting is costly.
I’d seen third world poverty before when I worked with a nonprofit organization in Honduras in the summer of 2012, but I still felt shocked when I went out to the camps of the trabajadores with whom FLOC organizers work to build community power. It was shocking, I think, because for the first time I was faced with the harsh realization that there is a widespread human trafficking operation of cheap labor thriving in my back yard.
One of the ugliest things I’ve seen in the fields confronted me this past Tuesday night when my companeros y yo visited a worker camp in North Carolina that was surrounded by barbwire fence. For me, it looked like a prison. It made me think of a cage where the workers are contained until they are needed to work in the fields. There were approximately 60 people living in 5-6 trailers with worn out mattresses backed into a small space, allowing hardly enough room for people to move around.
I realized that the poverty I witnessed in Honduras and the exploitation that the workers here in North Carolina experience are connected. Although, abstractly, I understood that they stem from the same roots of capitalism, imperialism, and racism, it was another thing altogether to witness the blatant disregard for even the most basic human rights that farmworkers are forced to endure every day. Wage theft, physical and verbal abuse, scorching heat, and denial of water and/or lunch breaks, and on and on.
FLOC is an organization of activists and advocates, some of whom have experienced these very same violations themselves, fighting to expose the ugliness of the conditions that farmworkers often feel they have to “put up with” in order to feed their families and care for their loved ones. The fact is that the plantation was never abolished in the South and there is nothing beautiful or endearing about the struggles that farmworkers are forced to experience for fear of losing their jobs or even being deported. As an intern for FLOC, I am even more motivated by and have an ever growing appreciation for la lucha to unionize and demand the Respect, the Recognition, and the Raises that farmworkers deserve.