Feature Article

The Grapes of Wrath – Migrant Farm Workers in California

They call the documented farmworkers “braceros”, the arms that pick, and the undocumented ones “mojados”, wet backs. The latter is a derogatory word used to describe migrants who risk their lives crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico to enter the United States without documentation. Today it’s estimated that 80% of crop workers in the United States are Latino migrant labourers and around 2.3 million workers are undocumented.

Agricultural production in the U.S. has long depended on migrant farm labour. During the 1930s Great Depression, “Okies” fled from the drought and dust of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas to the vineyards, farms and fruit orchards of the rolling green valleys of California. The migration continues.

Today Latino workers from Mexico and Central America form the majority of agricultural labourers in Sonoma County, California. In 2014, they were paid, on average, just over $10/hour and earned a median salary of just over $20,000 on an annual basis. They are the hundreds of thousands of invisble hands that plant, weed, spray and pick the fruits of California’s agricultural production.

[Read more]