Monday, September 19, 2011

Elements of "In Search of America" Still Present Today

After reading Nathan Asch’s “In Search of America,” I was immediately struck by the narrator of the story with his seemingly endless optimism and ‘I can change the world’ attitude. As he traveled across the country looking for the true representations of America, I am reminded of my summer and forced to reflect on some personal experiences that are incredibly relevant to the topic.

During the months of June and July, I had the opportunity to work in central Illinois through national Migrant Education Program. There, I was an instructor for both students of all ages in a type of traveling classroom. For the eight weeks, the students and their families, majority being Hispanic or Latino, move from their homes in Texas to work in the Midwest fields de-tasselling, rogueing and eventually picking corn for up to 12 hours a day in unbearable humidity and heat.

I apologize for the immense amount of background information, but I feel that it is necessary to get a full understanding of the lifestyle. In terms of living, entire families share hotel rooms provided by the hiring farmer and assigned by the ‘crew leader.’ The crew leader is the primary contact with the farmer and recruits the workers in Texas. Once a team is assembled, they travel about three days crammed into school busses until they reach their new motel homes; however, I feel it is important to note that the crew leader does not live with the crew but in a much more pleasant area.

This brings me back to Asch and, specifically the experiences in Colorado. The narrator mentions recalls that “Years ago Mexican families had been recruited from Mexico, shipped up North in trucks; during the season they lived right in the fields, in shacks, sometimes in wagons…as not to waste time” (294). Although the living conditions may have improved in relation to the past, the pattern of work is continued despite the narrator’s notion that it occurred “years ago” and assumption that it either no longer happens or will soon be non-existent (294).

Overall, I can identify three main similarities between the narrator’s experience with these migrant workers and my recent work with the same people in current times. First, as I have mentioned before, the living arrangements are sickening in each case. The people with whom I worked lived in dilapidated motels equipped with exposed wires, dirt covered floors and a molding foundation leaving a foul smell in the humid air, which can be compared to the shacks that were utilized in the past. Second, there is the looming threat of deportation that could be enforced in poor behavior becomes an issue. Although I do not know the legal standings of the people I met this summer, as it was of no importance to our program, workers were always conscious of their rights and not questioning anything, like long hours or eligible age of labor, in order to avoid unwanted trouble. Even though the thoughts and feelings have changed, the characters in the story are in a constant state of worry that their “contracts would be taken off relief and would be deported” (295). Finally, just as it is in Asch’s story, “no natives in America want[ed] to do this sunburnt, aching work” (294). In all these years, it appears that nothing has changed. People living in poverty, specifically immigrants are still targeted to occupy the most undesirable jobs as a last resort to provide for themselves and their families.

This now, brings back the issue of agency, and who has control in situations like these. In the case of migrant workers, then and now, it is clear that the government plays a role in keeping a standard in order; however, I believe it is possible that society has an influence over how people are viewed, treated and respected within the country. Essentially, this is problem that the narrator in Asch’s story encounters. Despite making people aware of workers and the struggles that constantly make their lives difficult, will anyone be called to action? Considering that this piece was written quite some time ago, and even references events that happened earlier in history, it seems that awareness is unfortunately not the answer.

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