Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Reaction to 'the jobs (most) Americans won't do'

Lettuce fields south of Yuma, Arizona, February 2010
Lettuce fields south of Yuma, Arizona, February 2010
Photo by Ken Lund/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The other day while traveling, I shared some of my in-flight reading in a post. The book was “Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won’t Do” by journalist Gabriel Thompson, who spent a year working in low-wage jobs alongside predominantly foreign-born Latinos.

Among other things, Thompson picked lettuce in Yuma, Arizona for $8.37 an hour and separated chicken parts in an Alabama slaughterhouse. One of his co-workers in the Yuma fields described the physical toll of lettuce-cutting this way:

“I will tell you how it is. This is one of the hardest jobs you can do. Why? Okay, I’ll tell you. You come in Monday and you’re okay; Tuesday you’re a little tired; Wednesday you’re very tired; Thursday you can hardly walk; and Friday you’re crawling. Friday, you just want to get it over with."

The post generated quite a bit of feedback, on this site and on KPCC's Facebook page.

Responding to the title of the book, Andres Martinez wrote on Facebook, "And that includes me!"

"Try harvesting grapes," Michael Holland wrote. "Suddenly they don't seem that expensive."

"For such pittance wages," David Lessig wrote, "I wouldn't do it either."

But one reader, who identified herself as Bonnie, provided sobering perspective from her own life on the times we are living in, posting this comment on Multi-American:

Without going into the whole immigration thing, I'm actually for everyone being given the right to be a legal citizen, well, except felons.

The truth is, I am a 52 year old woman busting my hump pushing shopping carts and loading lumber, concrete and other heavy building materials in the triple digit heat. I make minimum wage. I make $8.35 an hour.

No, it isn't picking lettuce, yes, my body screams at the end of a 8 hour shift, and yes, I work for a company that is very good to their employees. I would pick lettuce just to have income to help pay our bills.

So, don't say there are jobs that most people won't do ( times are very tough ) and stick to what is true, Illegals have been willing to work those jobs since the beginning, and they did any job to support their families. They are/have been undervalued. But, it doesn't make sense to say most americans wouldn't work harder for their families too.

Miguel Corona, a labor consultant, followed with a comment that can apply to anyone working a backbreaking job for minimum wage:
Growing up in Los Angeles, I knew families that worked up and down the state of California picking lettuce, grapes, strawberries, and other produce. I grew up watching Cesar Chavez fight for basic worker rights. Despite the legislative accomplishments in this regard, there are still areas of the country where workers are exploited.

Unfortunately, they are at the mercy of employers that use unfair hiring practices – low pay coupled with terrible working conditions.