I have a friend who lives in rural Mexico.
We don’t get to talk often because the wifi isn’t good there. Nothing is terribly good there. Scorpions keep getting into the house because there’s no front door. You have to bribe teachers so your child won’t be abused in school. The priest expects to be paid to say Mass, so there isn’t one weekly. There’s not too much to eat.
Just this week, my friend sent me a bit of news. A truck carrying mangoes turned over on the local highway. Quickly, somebody posted a photo with “vamos a los mangos” as a caption. The mangoes weren’t quite ripe because they were going to be exported to the US, and they were bruised from falling all over the road, but the locals didn’t care. They pounced. They swept up all the fruit they could carry away, and so did she. She was very excited to have bruised, underripe mangoes to take home to her family.
“Fruit and veggies are expensive here,” said my friend.
I was surprised at this.
The place she lives is desert, but there are jungles in Mexico. I guess I somehow pictured fresh tropical produce being plentiful and cheap even in the winter, for anyone who wanted to grow some– if I thought about it at all.
“Partly because the good ones all go to the United States,” she added.
My heart sank.
“Raspberries are the worst.”
I’d assumed in my inexcusable United States naivete that off-season raspberries came from California– and the situation surrounding migrant farm workers in California is bad enough. But a lot of them come from Mexico, where the climate for berries is perfect year round. They’re too expensive to buy and eat in Mexico, but they grow lots and lots. My friend says that raspberry pickers get paid ten cents a flat.
My aunt and I once spent a couple of hours picking a basket of fresh strawberries at a pick-your-own berry farm. It was fun, for an afternoon. Raspberries are much smaller, and have thorns. Imagine picking a one-pound basket of raspberries off thorny bushes– not traipsing about berry-picking in the shady woods on your day off, not at a hippie organic fruit farm with pleasant employees treating you like a customer, but from dawn to dusk in the heat of a Mexican summer, because it’s your job. Now imagine picking twelve of those, because there are about twelve pounds of raspberries in a flat; I just looked it up. Those twelve baskets earn you ten cents. To earn a dollar a day, that abject poverty wage we’ve all heard about from charity fundraising ads, you have to pick ten flats, 120 pounds, the weight of a lean adult human in raspberries. That’s for a dollar. Take it from there.And you don’t get a basket to take home.
You spend your few dollars on tortillas and beans, bribing a priest to say Mass for you, bribing the school not to hit your children because maybe if they get something like an education they can run away to a city and not have to pick raspberries. Maybe they’ll even make it to the United States and send you back some money. Or maybe they can’t. Either way, you can’t have any fruit. No raspberry jam, no oranges or bananas for breakfast, no mangoes. It’s too expensive.
People in tropical climates are scavenging bruised and unripe tropical fruit off a highway, because it’s too expensive to buy, because it’s going to richer people in temperate climates.
I am descended of Irish immigrants; despite my name, I’m only Italian by marriage. We grew up learning about the potato famine that wasn’t a famine: there was plenty of good food grown in Ireland, but it was all sent to England. The only food left for the Irish to eat was potatoes, because the English didn’t want those. For that reason, when the blight killed the potatoes, it also killed the Irish. Many of the Irish who did survive the famine, survived because they found a way to send family to the United States where they could work for food to eat and American dollars to send home. And when they got to America, they were despised and regarded as lazy, murderous, drunken, diseased and dirty apes who ought to be stopped from infesting the country.
I think of that whenever I see white U. S. citizens with Irish surnames decrying the plague of Mexican immigrants, the dangers of lazy and diseased Mexican immigrants, wishing we could make our country great again by keeping them out. There seem to be more and more of those lately, and they’re given larger and larger platforms.
I wonder if those Irish-Americans like to eat fruit when it’s not in season.
I wonder if they’re as naive as I am about where it comes from.
(image via Pixabay)