SOCIOECONOMIC AND HEALTH PROBLEMS OF FIELD LABORERS
Olga Ibatullina

     In the middle of last century, many Mexican people had an opportunity to live and work in the United States as seasonal farm workers. Basically, these people brought whole families with them. They moved across the U.S. border with hope for a better life, but most of them faced huge difficulties in their new places of habitation. The predominant level of foreign laborers' education was very low, so they didn't have a chance to get a well-paying job because they couldn't read, write or even communicate with American employers. They had to work picking crops and vegetables in the fields, and very often they suffered physical pain from such tough labor. Migrant workers were forced to follow the harvest, and, as a result, they couldn't stay on the same site for very long.They used to live in old barracks in unsanitary conditions that often led to a variety of infectious diseases. Under these conditions, seasonal field workers had to deal with socioeconomic problems and physical distress.

     In his book Breaking Through, Mexican immigrant Francisco Jimenez describes the difficult economic and social situation of his family. His father was a farm worker. Like many Mexicans in their community, he wasn't educated and couldn't read, write or even speak English. He wasn't going to adapt to his new life, for he was always dreaming about returning to Mexico. At the same time he knew he was responsible for taking care of his family, and he was looking for any possibilities to earn more money. For example, he spent a lot of hours working in the field and used all his physical resources. He also attempted to find another way to get funds such as becoming a sharecropper: “Papá was finally convinced. He decided to continue working for Ito six days a week, except Sundays, and to be a sharecropper” (49). But no matter how he tried to overcome his obstacles he couldn't work miracles. Like other migrant workers, he was limited by his illiteracy. He wasn't even able to change his sphere of activity without basic English language skills although his sons tried to help him to find a better job:

          “Well. I'll have to meet him and talk to him.”

          “He doesn't speak English,” I said. “Only Spanish.”

          “Can't use him. In this business I need someone who can speak English and with
           experience” (85).

     So that was the vicious cycle which Francisco's father couldn't break. He couldn't get a better job without education, nor did he have time for studying because he had to feed his children. Mr. Jimenez's family lived in poverty as did all their neighbors at Bonetti ranch and agricultural workers up and down the state of California. They were paid wages with which they could barely make ends meet: “Ito began to write the three checks. I knew Papá's check was for sixty-five dollars, because he got paid a dollar an hour. Roberto and I received eighty-five cents per hour, just like the braceros” (63). Certainly, these financial troubles led to many social restrictions that made it impossible to ever have faith in a better life.

     Though socioeconomic conditions were horrible, another serious problem for field laborers was the low level of health care, which meant they suffered various physical illnesses. Migrant workers were at risk of contracting different viral infections such as tuberculosis: “I recalled the bracero who everyone thought had tuberculosis. He picked strawberries with us one summer when we worked for Ito. We thought he had tuberculosis because he was skinny as a rail and often coughed blood” (11).  Farm employers didn't provide clean comfortable houses for their workers. Usually the housing was nothing more than old decrepit barracks with no indoor facilities or even a tent. Francisco's father constructed a kind of shower outside their dwelling, so they could take a bath there: “We took a bath in the shed, which was attached to the side of our barrack. Papá built it with discarded wood from the city dump” (23). Though they could bathe in the shed, they still  lived in an unsanitary environment and were at increased risk for contagion:

           “I slept off and on that day and night, and the following afternoon, Mamá drove me
            to Santa Maria County Hospital.”

          “I believe you have a mononucleosis,” the doctor said after examining me” (152).

     Picking the harvest was a hard physical job that required the laborers to have good health and strength. Sooner or later everyone who worked in the fields became exhausted. They felt extremely tired and didn't have enough energy to continue working efficiently. For example, Mr. Jimenez had persistent back pain and a severe headache all the time: “From that day on, Papá's spirit began to die too. His moods changed from day to day. He began to complain about his back and got angry about everything and everyone, especially Mamá” (53). To help their families to survive, many children at the age of 12 years or even younger started working in the fields. They worked as hard as adults, but they were more vulnerable to physical diseases and injuries. Francisco remembered  the first time he found himself in a bad mood, and that was a very significant event: “I looked in the mirror. My face was haggard and full of blemishes. I had dark circles under my eyes. My pants felt loose around the waist, so I tightened the belt another notch. My reflection reminded me of Papá. I understood for the first time how he must have felt in his darkest moods. I dropped to my knees, buried my face in my hand, and cried” (150). He feared he was going to follow his Papá's life full of pain, anger and despair because that was the only possible path for most farmworkers' children. There was another problem with young children who couldn't be permanently supervised by their parents. They usually spent time alone with their friends in the abandoned places and dumps where they could catch different parasitic and infectious diseases.  The lifestyle of these poor Mexican field workers led to specific health problems such as physical disorders, communicable diseases and viral infections, but in spite of the terrible conditions of their existence, they continued living and working in the U.S.

     In conclusion, it was a difficult time for Mexican immigrants when they moved to America in search of a living. Many of their dreams were delayed. Their families faced problems of adaptation. Adults couldn't completely socialize in the new environment, and they couldn't save their children from poverty. Seasonal workers lived in dirty uncomfortable places without any facilities. Very often they suffered from a variety of physical illnesses, and their children were defenseless against infections. Although they were struggling to cope with life's woes, some of them didn't stop dreaming about the future: “As we entered the city of Santa Maria and went by a large, two-story brick house, Mamá said, 'Look at that house to your left. Every time I go by it, I wonder what it's like to live in it. Actually, I wonder what it's like living in a house, any house. Maybe some day, si Dios quiere'" (192).