The Migrant Workers of Plant City - An American success story?
by William Falcone
I work as an employment counselor in Plant City, Fl. I am employed by a government agency (Hillsborough County). My agency is Department of Health and Social Services. My particular sub-department is known as the Employment Opportunity Program.
When I first started working in this location about five years ago I was concerned about my lack of bilingual skills(no habla espanol.) I assumed (since Plant City is known for its immigrant workers in the strawberry fields)that I would see numerous Mexican and Central American immigrants seeking employment. I assumed they would come around to look for work outside of what exists "out in the fields". I was primarily concerned since I do not speak Spanish and would always be needing a translator.
Well it turned out I rarely need a translator since I hardly ever see any agricultural workers. They seldom use the services provided at the neighborhood service center for employment assistance.
I always thought about these people and wondered-"Who are they?" I drive down Hwy 60 every morning from Brandon to Plant City-right past the strawberry fields. I see them hunched over and running back and forth with their buckets of berries. I always found the work fascinating. Who would do this work? Why do they have to do this back breaking labor? Why are they so hated by the majority white population in this area of Hillsborough County, Fl.?
Added to all these questions is the on-going national debate regarding illegal immigration.(Particularly with concerns to what is going on in Arizona.) And recently there is talk of similar legislation taking place in Florida. Personally the issue does not upset me. Perhaps I should be upset about the illegal nature of what these people do. Immigrants from other countries (such as my own wife from El Salvador) have to go through so much bureaucracy to be legal residents leading to citizenship. Some of these farm laborers in Plant City likely are illegal. But this does not concern me.
Like many U.S. citizens I am the product of legal immigrants (grandparents) from Italy and Ireland. I have assumed they immigrated legally many decades ago. All chasing the elusive American dream. But not the strawberry field workers in Plant City who are "without papers".
But this does not personally bother me. I see them as from poverty stricken lands with no available work. The best opportunity may be for them to take their chances and cross the border. To me they are merely providing a service (cheap labor)that Americans will not do. They likely give more than they take from the system.
So who are they? What are their stories? Is my idea of illegal entry due to an emergent need for money and food back home a false idea?
The strawberry pickers in Plant City are my story. I believe I may be able to gain access to some who will be willing to tell their stories. With anti-illegal legislation fervor as a backdrop -I believe their story can be compelling.
1312 Foxboro Dr.
Brandon, Fl. 33511