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Impact of Mexican/South American work force on New Jersey

I am reposting these comments arising from a Facebook conversation about Mexican and South American workers at our New Jersey shore communities that I think deserves more exposure. I have used the term “Mexican workers” without knowing for sure the origin of most of my neighbors. The language barrier and good reasons to hide the facts might mean that some are from other South American countries. I use the term for simplicity here. The relative few that I’ve actually had conversation with seem to be from Mexico who came here legally as migrant workers. The story gets messy and murky from there.

The state of New Jersey officially estimates that 70% of the state’s agriculture and fishery workers are undocumented immigrants. Around here in rural Cumberland County it appears to be much higher. My own observations lead me to conclude that Mexicans bring in almost all of our local food.

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for our Mexican neighbors. It’s partly philosophical, and party based on mundane observation of life around here. I’ve been casually monitoring local news with regard to the impact of the Mexican worker influx over several decades including jobs, crime, schools, etc. in the Ocean City and Cumberland County areas and there is little evidence to support the negative beliefs that seem to exist on this subject. The fact is that our Mexican neighbors are largely commendable, hard-working and law abiding. The common belief that ‘undocumented’ is the same as ‘illegal’ often just wrong. Language barriers make it difficult to know the whole story but apparently many of them entered the US legally under season work visas and then the system falls apart after that; I don’t pretend to have any understanding of the details of the mess with the companies that do this worker immigration. But some people think they slipped into the U.S. though a hole in the fence that Trump will mend; that’s just a ridiculous belief. They came as part of an organized and necessary labor force that has existed well before the days of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath scenario in the 1930s. If you think you are a Trump supporter and you haven’t read this classic American novel, please do yourself and the country a favor and invest a few hours.

I am also emotionally impacted by “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos”
(also known as “Deportee”) by Woody Guthrie, that has long been one of my favorite songs:

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott’ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They’re flying ’em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees”

My father’s own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died ‘neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees”

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except “deportees”?

This 1975 recording by Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie is worth a listen. The performers are far more persuasive than I can be in a blog post.

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