I felt pretty overwhelmed about the conversation of immigration – its complexity, the difficulty of building consensus, the prospects of reform… Those most affected – the workers – are in positions that are so demanding that they are worked until they can’t engage, and that is in addition to the experiences that have “taught” them no one will listen to their experiences. As I continue to explain to people what it is that I am doing – and try to do so in a compelling way – I continue to struggle to come up with my “elevator speech.” As I said before, it is different depending on who I am speaking to – workers in the field, growers, newspaper or radio people (and then it also depends on the audience they write for and who they themselves are, especially immigrant or not).
Language has also been interesting in this community that so clearly distinguishes between “migrants” and “immigrants.” They are two very different stages, but there doesn’t seem to be language that reflects their shared fate. The true “migrants” – at least in the minds of many – are not as present. Are they just hidden? How can the growers or the regular public even tell? The “migrants” no longer come in large covered trucks and follow the crops along the coast, and they likely try to blend in.
This morning I went to early service (8:15 a.m.) at one of the local Lutheran churches and to Spanish mass at the Catholic church in Zilah at 10:30 a.m. – two different worlds. The two churches shared a similar order of liturgy and the same set of readings, but embodied two worlds apart. Dawit, Meheret and only one more kid were at the early service’s children’s sermon. The majority of the congregation was clearly of retirement age and only a few were younger. It was the early service, so I don’t know what attendance looks like at other services, but it was pretty thin. (Later I heard from someone that the early service was the main service.) Then at the Catholic church, the place was packed, and the average age was somewhere around 30. Tons of kids! In fact, the main focus of the sermon was about keeping them quiet so we can listen to God’s Word… The second reading from Ephesians 2 started by saying that, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” Yet the sermon didn’t at all connect with the daily lives of the people who were listening…
Yesterday (Saturday), we went on a wine tasting tour, and even there I kept up the conversation about immigration – with a newspaper person in the Tri-City area, a farmer turned winemaker and a migrant worker also turned winemaker. The guy at McKenley Springs, the first winery we visited, was very open and conversational. He farms some 60,000 acres with his extended family. Only about 5% of that (3,000 acres) is in grapes. Like others I spoke with, he started planting vines in the early 1980’s. “Like most everybody,” he said, “we didn’t know what we were doing, and we just grew too many grapes on the vine. I’m a farmer; it’s all about producing more.” Over time, he indicated, they have been learning. Their first vintage was not until 2000. What an amazing crop! It demands long-term commitment and planning. In a way, the contrast between these long-standing family farms and the needed transient labor is puzzling. The contrast between that ever-present image of migration and the huge labor needs… The woman from the paper in Tri-State seem to indicate about 50,000 people are needed in the valley for the harvest. Then the statement in the Herald’s paper that was just appalling. In the opinion page, the writer ended by quoting – mis-quoting I think – Senator Shumer as saying that “We need engineers, not low skill labor.” Showing agreement with a comment like that in this valley seems either ignorant or willfully insulting. Will anyone respond or just let it stand?