The Hardest Work in the Hardest Place
Like its farm workers, Imperial County is struggling. The Los Angeles Times wrote:
“As California has rebounded from the Great Recession, the Imperial Valley has largely defied attempts to expand its economy beyond seasonal farming and government work, and the county continues to suffer the highest unemployment rates in the state.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest five-year estimate, Imperial County’s unemployment rate stands at 16% — four times greater than the state’s overall jobless rate of 4.2%.”
That’s the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and though it is the core of the county’s despair, it is also only the beginning. California’s housing crisis is ever-apparent here, with one in four residents living in poverty. The Mexican drug cartels’ proximity—if not presence—is chilling. And the New River flowing between Calexico and Mexicali has been described as a “pit of infection” because of “noxious sewage filled with feces, industrial chemicals and other raw waste.”
The scenery is stark, the summers are scorching and the people are poor. Still, migrants want to be here for the work.
Edgar and Martin compare the same distinct bumps on their thumbs—almost as if they have extra joints—from harvesting the produce that we eat. They describe the dangers of carrying sharp tools in the fields and the drawbacks of farming certain crops. Onions require them to begin working at midnight. Lettuce fields can leave them submerged to their chins in cold water. Celery must be measured by hand and swiftly sliced to fit the size of its packaging. There are accidents, injuries and illnesses, but nothing stops or slows the labor. These are the jobs that many of us could never do.