Volume 21, Number 3
Tiffany Ten eyck
Worst Places To Be Black
Mass Destruction U.
Global Recession I
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Out of Sight Communities
Z MAGAZINE ONLINE-ONLY ARTICLE
Christina Nelson and I pull off the main road into the fisheries trailer park in a small, rural town in coastal Maine. Located within walking distance of the factory, the trailer park is owned by the fishery and maintained exclusively to house their laborers—a tucked-away community composed entirely of Latino immigrants and migrants.
A native of Maine, one of the whitest states in the nation, I had left the state with the assumption that nothing cross-cultural would be found within its secluded fishing, logging, and farming communities. Rural Maine is known as much for its stubborn insularity as for its land-working traditionalists. So it was with surprise that, coming home some years later with an interest in immigration, I discovered just how much of rural Maine’s grunt work is actually being done by Latino workers—hidden communities that are anything but new.
Housing for migrant harvest workers, with dozens of people bunked in each temporary cabin—photo by Margaret Adams
Christina seems to know everyone. She first came into contact with this community of expatriated laborers over a decade ago, while promoting literacy in economically disadvantaged counties such as this one. It soon came to her attention that it was not just the rural white poor who needed literacy; behind the scenes and outside of the widespread town centers, scores of Mexican and South American laborers were not only doing seasonal harvesting in the region, but, family by family, starting to stay. She began instituting ESL classes, first out of her own house, then from a town library.
This is my first glimpse of the migrant subculture. It seems that Ruben and I are those last-minute guests to the reunion. We are here for two reasons: to introduce me to Elena and set up English lessons and to discuss the legality of recent evictions from this same trailer park. Ruben, who is half-Mexican, often represents migrants in Maine. “They call me the opener,” Christina told me in the car earlier, “because of my role in the community. My relationship with these people is not professional—it’s entirely personal. They trust me. So this is a big deal to be introducing Ruben to them today,in his professional capacity. He couldn’t just walk in here and have them talk to him. I’m taking their trust in me and placing it on him.”
After many introductions, we get down to business. The Perez family, Elena explains, was evicted with no advance warning. The owners came and asked them to leave, “bueno, not that second, but ‘as soon as possible.’” To make this all the more clear, the owner drove by their trailer every 20 minutes or so just to see “if they were leaving yet.”
The Perez family was well-known as the family who stood up for everyone else’s rights, who complains when they aren’t given enough hours to qualify for unemployment, who demands fair treatment, and encourages the other families to do the same. It’s no mystery that this is the cause of their precipitous eviction.
After Elena has outlined the situation, Ruben leans forward to speak. “The most important thing,” Ruben says, “is that everyone is aware of their rights.” Ruben explains that while the eviction was within the lines of the law—you can let people go at anytime for most justifications, excluding out-and-out, clear discrimination—everyone has a right to some advance warning before being thrown out. Above all else, Ruben stresses the importance of standing up for these rights. If they don’t demand them, no one else will protect their civil liberties—especially not out here.
“But,” Elena says, “people are afraid to speak up for any of their rights because while most here in the trailer park have documents, others do not.”
The Perez family have papers, but not everyone in the trailer park does. And without the Perez family standing up for all of them, the likelihood of the others rallying on their own for their rights is not high. While even those without documentation have a certain number of basic rights, the undocumented don’t address them. In the unlikely event that they even are familiar with these rights, many feel that substandard treatment is better than deportation.
For those who are documented, language barriers and a general ignorance of their legal rights as foreigners keep people from knowing what rights they can claim, much less how to claim them. Ruben’s urgings seem to fall short, a brave but somewhat unconvincing argument when taken in light of recent repercussions. A clear message has been sent that life can be made difficult for those who stand up for themselves.
This makes it difficult for human rights abuses to be monitored. Five years ago, one famous case made the news: 14 Honduran and Guatemalan workers were killed when their van, driven by their crew foreperson, went off a bridge on a private road in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway of Northern Maine. The men, some of whom had been returning to Maine annually for 5 years on 6-month H-2B visas, were paying $84 dollars a week to ride this van the 2.5 hours each way, daily, between their housing and their workplace. Such a commute, particularly in the more dangerous roadways of Northern Maine, is rife with unnecessary risks: hazards related to fatigue, poor visibility, poor roadways, moose, and other wildlife.
It’s typical that it took such an accident to bring working conditions to the attention of the state. After the deaths, the Forest Resources Association said that its members would explore ways to provide housing in the woods where H-2B workers were employed in an attempt to reduce such lengthy and dangerous commutes. Unlike H-2A farm workers, though, H-2B workers do not legally have to be provided with housing by their employers.
Dusk is coming fast. Christina stops and studies another car coming down the road and into the trailer park. She apparently recognizes the vehicles and she starts hustling me towards her car: “We gotta get out of here now or we never will, we’ll be here all night.” It’s already been a long day. I wave goodbye.
The general lack of awareness that these communities of foreign workers even exist is striking. In a place where towns fade into numbered townships and the average drive to the grocery store can take nearly an hour, it is easy to lose sight of who, exactly, is working the lowest jobs in the struggling rural economy. These workers rarely leave their own circles. Isolated by language barriers and pigeon-holed into work environments they have little control over, they become virtually invisible.
Rounding the bend and merging back onto the paved road, I look in the rearview mirror and see no indication of the park we just left. I probably have driven past it before, still imagining that migrant labor and all of the issues associated with it had yet to find its way to my state, lodged as it is on the opposite border. You cannot protect the rights of vulnerable communities if you cannot see them. The only way we can begin to achieve fair working conditions and protect worker’s human rights is by being aware of where and how working communities exist in the first place.
Margaret Adams's writing has appeard in Transitions Abroad magazine and Down East magazine. She is a weekly columnist for the Bangor Daily News.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.