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Fresa Farms: It's a Whitewash

ARTIST'S STATEMENT, 1997

Welcome to the 90's, where American corporations initiated NAFTA to export work in order to bypass environmental and labor laws in the U.S. Now we get to see the abject working conditions imposed by American owned maquiladoras along the border zone, where workers are paid an average of 38 pesos ($5) per day and are exposed to toxic contaminants at a life-threatening rate. (1) The first year of NAFTA, in just one maquiladora zone in Tijuana, 6 children were born without brains, in the second 13 children were born without brains, subsequently, the gathering of these statistics was prohibited. (2)

Unlike factories and assembly lines, farm work itself is an activity tied to land. As land cannot be exported, agribusiness has created their own "Third World" islands in the U.S. which are conveniently populated by scapegoated documented and undocumented migrant workers. Strawberry workers in particular work 12 hours a day, with no sanitary facilities, bent over and stooping, in fields contaminated with methyl bromide, a "Category I acute toxin" (3) . They suffer from parasitic infections at a rate twenty times more than an average American worker, with fatal injuries ten times more common than among other American workers. Their life expectancy is 49 years.

My question in "Home Grown: Fields of Califas," is are Americans willing to accept this level of human sacrifice for a cheap package of strawberries? Are they willing to ignore corporate abuses that lead to a death rate two decades lower than the average, and abysmal living and working conditions, for cheaper more perfect fruits and vegetables?
Does the average American know that with another 5 cents per basket of strawberries, you can improve the working conditions and living standards of strawberry workers right now? That is 5 cents for fairness. Do they care?

Sources:
1. "Rebellion on the Border"; David Bacon; SF Bay Guardian; 3/5/97; p. 19
2. ibid, p. 18. In that zone, lead and heavy metal deposits have been measured in the soil at concentrations 40,000 times above safe levels.
3. A Category I acute toxin is the most deadly category of substances. "Political Economy of Agriculture in Transition"; UC Berkeley; 11/96.
4. "Major Push for Strawberry Workers"; Barb Kucerra; Labor Report on the Americas; 3/97, p.4

For information on pesticides, visit the environmental group's website at: www.ewg.org

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