This is another of my sporadic posts dedicated to the little city we’ll soon be leaving.
It happens that our county is largely agricultural, specifically in the way of orchards that produce apples and stone fruits (eg. peaches, cherries) and vineyards that support a growing wine region. We also have a lot of dairies, though they don’t typically employ many migrant workers.
Our city’s Super Walmart is the nearest for a great number of big farms in our county.
“Walmart of the World”
In the summer, on occasional Saturdays, the local Super Walmart
becomes a kind of United Nations
when the pickers are allowed to do their shopping.
They’re brought in on buses of dubious ancestry,
decrepit except for the obfuscating paint,
a habit of hiding that carries over into many aspects of the riders’ lives.
The men shuffle off in a spot far from the front doors with their perky greeters lying in
Maybe it’s to make it easier to park the bus
but probably it’s because the owner tells the driver to do it.
Put it somewhere where it won’t draw so much attention.
(Remind them of their place—outside the day in, day out of your
average American Walmart shopper.)
Subtext is everything when you’re living the migrant life.
The superstore hires additional security for summer Saturdays.
They shadow the pickers up and down the air-conditioned aisles.
Sometimes there’s a sheriff’s car or two parked in the fire zone
for added insurance.
Nothing says welcome like the immediate suspicion that you’re going to steal something.
Of course, they aren’t welcome at all. Why would they be?
They do the brutal work few American workers would withstand.
They live in conditions not fit for livestock.
They’re treated like pariahs by the people in the communities who benefit from the
those big farms pull in.
They shop in our Walmart and we sneer at them.
I listen to the gentle rain of their Jamaican patois.
I enjoy their laughter, wonder what they’re saying.
There’s something big and lively in their manner. They make me smile.
They aren’t here to entertain me.
The workers from Central and South America are more circumspect and furtive,
as if they deserve the extra security.
In fact, I think they’re just afraid of being suspected.
I remember one young man years ago at our local June street festival
smiling tentatively and indicating with his camera
that he wanted a picture with my mother and me,
who were eating fair food at a plastic table in the sun.
He sat with us, and I dredged up my high school Spanish
enough to ask him where he was from.
He smiled nervously as if he didn’t understand what I’d said
and fled soon after.
I often wonder if he sent that photo home.
What did his loved ones think of him sitting
with the withered, unhappy old woman
and her awkward daughter who asked impertinent questions?
I hope he told them we were friends.
I hope he said in his letter that he was welcome here.