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Apr 2003 / the ordinary eye :: email this story to a friend

A Harvest of Hope
By Jennifer Silverberg

Migrant farm workers have been an important part of the American landscape throughout the post-industrial world. Most migrant farm workers earn wages far below the federal poverty level. Their health status resembles that found in Third World countries. Migrant children have severely high school dropout rates. Migrant farm workers uphold a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry in this country, yet the supports in place for them are often inaccessible, when they exist at all. All this, in the richest country in the world.

One might then think that this community would not embrace a stranger, especially an American asking more of them, entrenching herself in their company. However, what I found was the exact opposite. I found myself completely enchanted by a warm, generous and beautiful culture and people. The kindness shown to me by a community that, by our standards of living, has so little truly overwhelmed me. I was eventually allowed to stay in the migrant camp where anywhere between 45 and 60 men live, never once feeling unwelcome or unsafe. I was given access to their world.

While I chose to focus my attention on farm workers, it should be noted that the influx of Hispanics into this country has grown tremendously in the past 10 to 20 years, and has done so in urban areas as well as in rural communities. The 2000 census reflects this national trend. Surpassing the number of African-Americans, Hispanics are now the largest minority group in this country. The St. Louis metropolitan area is not untouched by this trend. There's the Cherokee Street area in South City, St. Ann in St. Louis' North County and Fairmont City in Illinois. These are just a few examples of the pockets of Hispanic, mostly Mexican, culture in our region.

As this population grows — and in this post-NAFTA/post-9.11 world, it most assuredly will — I only hope our sensitivity to its needs does as well.

These photographs and others will be on display at The Bonsack Gallery in John Burroughs School, 755 Price Road, from April 11, 2003 - May 12, 2003. Monday - Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

There will be an opening reception on Friday, April 11 from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m.

[Click on a thumbnail image below to pop up the large version.]

Jesus at the cotton gin in Peach Orchard, Missouri. Fall, 2001.
Cotton field in Senath, Missouri. Fall, 2001.
Loading watermelons in Senath, Missouri. Backbreaking work in the intense heat of July. Summer, 2001.
A mariachi band performed at the annual fiesta in Kennett, Missouri. Summer, 2001.
Herman in a cotton field in Senath, Missouri. Fall, 2002.
Leisure time at the migrant camp consists of, in no particular order, soccer, basketball, drinking and women. Summer, 2002.
Two young girls left under the care of their ten-year-old cousin while their parents were out working the fields. Summer, 2001.
Gin owner Robert Caneer, showing off his product, has been in the cotton business for 63 years. Fall, 2002.
Miguel, hanging out at the migrant camp in Campbell, Missouri. Summer 2002.
Tony poses in front of the cotton modules next to the migrant camp in Senath, Missouri. Fall, 2001.
The nosebleed. Migrant camp in Campbell, Missouri. Summer, 2002.
Arturo at a migrant camp in Holcomb, Missouri, otherwise known as "Little Mexico." Fall, 2001.

Jennifer Silverberg is the staff photographer at the Riverfront Times.

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