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Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States

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Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies provides an intimate examination of the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants in our contemporary food system. An anthropologist and MD in the mold of Paul Farmer and Didier Fassin, Holmes shows how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and health care. Holmes’s material is visceral and powerful. He trekk Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies provides an intimate examination of the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants in our contemporary food system. An anthropologist and MD in the mold of Paul Farmer and Didier Fassin, Holmes shows how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and health care. Holmes’s material is visceral and powerful. He trekked with his companions illegally through the desert into Arizona and was jailed with them before they were deported. He lived with indigenous families in the mountains of Oaxaca and in farm labor camps in the U.S., planted and harvested corn, picked strawberries, and accompanied sick workers to clinics and hospitals. This “embodied anthropology” deepens our theoretical understanding of the ways in which social inequalities and suffering come to be perceived as normal and natural in society and in health care.   All of the book award money and royalties from the sales of this book have been donated to farm worker unions, farm worker organizations and farm worker projects in consultation with farm workers who appear in the book.   


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Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies provides an intimate examination of the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants in our contemporary food system. An anthropologist and MD in the mold of Paul Farmer and Didier Fassin, Holmes shows how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and health care. Holmes’s material is visceral and powerful. He trekk Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies provides an intimate examination of the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants in our contemporary food system. An anthropologist and MD in the mold of Paul Farmer and Didier Fassin, Holmes shows how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and health care. Holmes’s material is visceral and powerful. He trekked with his companions illegally through the desert into Arizona and was jailed with them before they were deported. He lived with indigenous families in the mountains of Oaxaca and in farm labor camps in the U.S., planted and harvested corn, picked strawberries, and accompanied sick workers to clinics and hospitals. This “embodied anthropology” deepens our theoretical understanding of the ways in which social inequalities and suffering come to be perceived as normal and natural in society and in health care.   All of the book award money and royalties from the sales of this book have been donated to farm worker unions, farm worker organizations and farm worker projects in consultation with farm workers who appear in the book.   

30 review for Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jessaka

    This has been a subject that has been of interest to me in recent years, especially since reading online about the horrors that Hispanics go through in the fields. I have even read a few other books on this subject, but no book has really gone into it as deeply as this one or at least none that I just read. Seth Holmes is an anthropologist who is also studying to become a medical doctor, if he hasn't gotten his degree by now. He went down to Oaxaca and then crossed the border with the Mexicans i This has been a subject that has been of interest to me in recent years, especially since reading online about the horrors that Hispanics go through in the fields. I have even read a few other books on this subject, but no book has really gone into it as deeply as this one or at least none that I just read. Seth Holmes is an anthropologist who is also studying to become a medical doctor, if he hasn't gotten his degree by now. He went down to Oaxaca and then crossed the border with the Mexicans into the United States, where he was arrested and then released. He then went to work in the fields with the migrant workers, interviewed them, their doctors and their bosses. It is a crime what big corporations and our government do by making it impossible for farmers to increase their wages or improve their living conditions. If they do, it would cause the farmer to go bankrupt. And yet many farmers would like to help their workers. As I am typing this, I realize that perhaps a farmer can’t afford to pay the white man to work in his fields. If anyone wants to know what it takes to put food on our tables and what Mexicans go through while here, and why they must come to America, I would suggest this book. If I were young I would want to become an activist but all I can do is write poetry on it that no one will see and then tell others what is happening. I am adding a poem to this that I had written shortly after writing my review. The second stanza part about the sleeping bags is what I saw when living in Del Mar, CA where the Mexicans work for the fairgrounds during the horse races: GRINGO, DO YOU REALLY WANT MY JOB? i work seventeen hour days on u. s. soil— a dollar an hour at a fairgrounds, one, maybe, near you. i sleep in a flea and bedbug infested bag down by the river and defecate in bushes by the same river that gently flows into your ocean where you go swimming In the summer and play Frisbee with your dog. are you sure you still want my job? i am fed one meal a day and suffer from dehydration but you americans always cry that we are taking your jobs away. while i only want more than one meal, bottled water, and some rest. i am a farm worker— my nose bleeds, i vomit, and my skin breaks out in a rash— my hands so swollen it is hard to touch the fruit that i must pick to put food on your table. The doctor claimed it is just the flu, but i knew, it was from your beloved fungicides, and pesticides that you spray on crops just to keep food on your table. is my life worth only that much? my years are not long in these fields my body grows weak, my back hurts middle aged, I go back to mexico or south america. unemployable. but i needed the money more than you, gringo or you would have my job.

  2. 5 out of 5

    sdw

    This ethnographic study of indigenous Mexican migrant farm workers in Washington state exposes the structural and symbolic violence such workers face. Holmes carefully enumerates the ways that the racialized hierarchies of agricultural labor are naturalized. The author is a medical anthropologist and as such reveals a particular concern with public health issues. The book starts with an incredibly compelling first person narrative of the author crossing the border with his undocumented subjects. This ethnographic study of indigenous Mexican migrant farm workers in Washington state exposes the structural and symbolic violence such workers face. Holmes carefully enumerates the ways that the racialized hierarchies of agricultural labor are naturalized. The author is a medical anthropologist and as such reveals a particular concern with public health issues. The book starts with an incredibly compelling first person narrative of the author crossing the border with his undocumented subjects. In this introduction, the author does a great job dealing with the ever-present question in anthropology of positionality. This would be a great book to teach undergraduates. The majority of the book is very readable and the author goes to pains to explains the terms he uses. "The United Nations Population Division estimates conservatively that there are 175 million migrants in the world . . .In the United States, researchers estimate that there are over 290 million residents, including 36 million immigrants, approximately 5 million to 10 million of whom are unauthorized. In addition, it is estimated that approximately 95 percent of agricultural workers in the United States were born in Mexico, 52 percent of them unauthorized."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Seth Rumbley

    Issues surrounding undocumented migration to the United States have been the subjects of heated debate in the American political system for decades. As Seth Holmes explains, however, there is a sense of irony in the fact that policymakers often contribute to the structures that perpetuate undocumented labor migration and legitimize the resulting social inequalities. These inequalities and the embodied suffering that coincide become normalized, Holmes argues, often remaining unnoticed by those at Issues surrounding undocumented migration to the United States have been the subjects of heated debate in the American political system for decades. As Seth Holmes explains, however, there is a sense of irony in the fact that policymakers often contribute to the structures that perpetuate undocumented labor migration and legitimize the resulting social inequalities. These inequalities and the embodied suffering that coincide become normalized, Holmes argues, often remaining unnoticed by those at all levels of the social hierarchy. At other times, the oppressed are blamed for their own suffering. As both a physician and an anthropologist, Holmes is invested in understanding the health outcomes that result from political and economic social structures and how these outcomes are normalized. In this critical ethnography, he does so by conducting extensive fieldwork amongst the Triqui, an indigenous group from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, as they migrate to the United States to work in agricultural fields. ​ His research pairs Eric Wolf’s theory of political economy with the concept of symbolic violence introduced by Pierre Bourdieu. He notes the impact of international policy on labor migration, citing the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a source of economic hardship for Mexico’s indigenous corn producers, many of whom were subsequently forced to migrate in order to provide for their families. As Holmes’ observations reveal, Triqui migrant workers experience numerous forms of violence and domination that become socially justified through symbolic interpretations of their bodies. These notions regarding bodies are described by pairing Bourdieu’s ideas of doxa and habitus. The normalization and structural support of these social perceptions constitute symbolic violence, which Holmes explains as “the interrelations of social structures of inequalities and perceptions” (p. 44). ​Holmes’ book is organized into a foreword and seven chapters. The foreword, written by Philippe Bourgois, speaks to timeliness of Holmes’ work. Most of the following chapters are cleverly titled using quotes obtained in the field that are relevant to that chapter’s content. In chapter 1, “Introduction: ‘Worth Risking Your Life?,’” Holmes provides a background to his research, which is intermingled with sections of ethnographic narrative detailing his initial encounters and subsequent journey across the border with the Triqui. His second chapter provides a holistic definition of the body and argues for the inclusion of the anthropologist’s perspective in research on body politics. During his fieldwork, Holmes relied heavily on participant observation in order to ascertain the effects that structural, symbolic violence has on the bodies of migrant farmworkers. Understanding the embodiment of migrant suffering through personal experience not only served to build rapport with his research subjects, but also provided ethnographic richness to his narrative, as he was able to observe the suffering caused by structural violence. ​ Chapter 3 details the hierarchical nature of agricultural work in the United States and how placement of individuals in this hierarchy establishes “ethnicity” as a social definition related to economic and social power. Holmes presents a conceptual diagram of this hierarchy, depicting the relationship between ethnicity and social power and incorporating language, citizenship, and type of labor performed into this structure (p. 85). Their placement at the bottom of this hierarchy has health consequences for the Triqui, which Holmes expounds upon in chapter 4. He documents the experiences of migrant farmworkers, showcasing sickness and pain as an embodiment of symbolic violence rooted in institutionalized racism. This social structure extends beyond the boundaries of the agricultural workplace, however, as medical professionals frequently blame the Triqui for their own suffering—the topic of chapter 5. Chapter 6 builds on the previous sections, describing the ways in which hierarchical power relations, symbolic violence, and health consequences become normalized social conditions by all members in a social hierarchy—including those most disenfranchised. In his conclusion Holmes offers a critique of the American healthcare system, arguing that medical professionals treating sickness should address “not only its current manifestations but also its social, economic, and political causes” (p. 193). He further remarks on the complexity of America’s agricultural industry, noting that a legislated increase in the wages paid to migrant laborers would likely drive more farms toward complete mechanization. While many of the Triqui advocate for legal temporary residency in order to perform seasonal agricultural labor, Holmes recommends a reform in immigration legislation that would allow a path to citizenship. In sum, Holmes presents a relevant and effective piece that seeks to make American citizens critically aware of the structural and symbolic violence inflicted on the bodies of those whose labor provides us with access to affordable goods—a premise often ignored by legislators and politicians. When reading of these migrant farmworkers’ lived experiences, it becomes readily apparent that building a wall will not “make America great again”; the problem is not migrant laborers, but the social structures that oppress, dehumanize, and perpetuate symbolic violence.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dragos

    In Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies Seth M. Holmes uses his extensive fieldwork amidst the Triqui people to paint us a rather depressing picture of the US agricultural sector and US border policy in general. Trained as both an MD and an anthropologist Holmes gives us a dual perspective that blends medical positivism with the anthropological knack for data interpretation and ferreting out hidden ties and patterns. The book is at its best when Holmes is narrating. The man seems destined for a career as In Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies Seth M. Holmes uses his extensive fieldwork amidst the Triqui people to paint us a rather depressing picture of the US agricultural sector and US border policy in general. Trained as both an MD and an anthropologist Holmes gives us a dual perspective that blends medical positivism with the anthropological knack for data interpretation and ferreting out hidden ties and patterns. The book is at its best when Holmes is narrating. The man seems destined for a career as an ethnographer. He situates himself not as a ‘fly on the wall’ observer but as an active participant taking part (sporadically) in the gruelling labour, his informants he refers to as his ‘friends’. Holmes has a strong ethnographic voice, an eye for detail and knows just how to present a vignette to make it both interesting to an audience consisting of non-anthropologists and to tie it to larger themes of structural violence and global income and opportunity inequality. And that’s where the problems start. While he paints a stunning, captivating picture of the US Borderlands, Mexican highlands and rural Washington Holmes’ analysis is a bit sophomoric. He constructs a flimsy structure for analysis based on ‘the usual suspects’: Bourdieu, Wacquant, Bourgois, with a few forays into philosophy through Gramsci and Levinas. While it is true that the analysis is aimed at a wider audience rather than, say, people such as ourselves who obsess endlessly over theoretical frameworks the scope of it requires a more judicious use of theory to back up some of the more extraordinary claims. Otherwise bits like Holmes’ analysis of three case studies, all suffering from various illnesses related to their labour and the migration process, falls flat. The structural explanations that he builds between these bodily afflictions and large-scale structural problems in the market economy and the persecution of migration, come out as stylistic flourishes rather than serious analysis. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies does however raise some very interesting points. The multi-level analysis of the fruit trade gives us a cross picture of how different levels of inequality build up from the top down. Nobody is left unaffected by the structural pressures of the neoliberal status-quo: executives worry about market pressures and business survivability, crop managers worry about that and also crop minutiae, crew bosses also about making quotas and so forth down to the bottom level of the pickers who worry about everything for the lowest amount of pay, with bad housing and next to no job security. Perhaps the most important thing to come out of the book is something that is by no means revolutionary but that still has to be said, particularly to a non-academic audience: the tightening of border regimes is discriminatory, dangerous and above all counter-productive. To drum up political support politicians support the tightening of border regimes and thus the professionalization of people smuggling networks. People smuggling has become a lucrative business opportunity for coyotes and the high costs associated with border crossings have led to more permanent irregular migration, rather than less. One has to think back to the posters described by Seth Holmes in the border town of Totem that asked Is it worth risking your life? With the tightening of border regimes and the persecution and disenfranchisment of a vital part of the American labour force the answer is clear. It is, but perhaps only one way. The seasonal migrant is caught in a trap. He or she needs to work and there is plenty of work available but no rights come with his/her status as a labourer. The ‘illegal’ migrant is stripped of his humanity and with it, his human rights. He is a machine and a machine has no rights, a machine doesn’t get sick or earn overtime pay. A machine does its job and is replaced when it breaks down. Weak in its analytical and theoretical framework Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies is nonetheless a captivating ethnographic read that gives us a complex picture of the exploitation apparatus built around the modern ‘illegalized’ migrant as well as the devastating health effects that it has on individuals.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eduardo Santiago

    We know that our food is artificially cheap. At some abstract level we know there's suffering involved. Holmes beautifully lets us see and almost feel what that suffering is really like: the terror of the border crossing, the social circumstances that make it necessary; the back-neck-knee-and-body-breaking misery of picking strawberries seven days a week for unending hours; waking to rainfall as condensed breath drips from your uninsulated ceiling; the humiliation and insults and violence. Seth We know that our food is artificially cheap. At some abstract level we know there's suffering involved. Holmes beautifully lets us see and almost feel what that suffering is really like: the terror of the border crossing, the social circumstances that make it necessary; the back-neck-knee-and-body-breaking misery of picking strawberries seven days a week for unending hours; waking to rainfall as condensed breath drips from your uninsulated ceiling; the humiliation and insults and violence. Seth Holmes walked the walk, spending years living with (excuse the term) migrant workers roaming between Oaxaca, California, and Washington. People who turn out to be (gasp!) actual human beings who experience love, joy, fear, sadness, pain (only much, much more of the latter than you or I ever will). Holmes writes engagingly, with more grace and heart than I could ever muster. Even when interviewing truly contemptible hatemongering bigots he refrains from editorializing, letting their own words damn them. But those are just small parts of the book. The vast majority takes you into the lives of these families, into their days and hopes of finding better lives. And into the systems that make that almost impossible. Recommended reading for anyone who eats food. Required for anyone who has influence over immigration, agricultural, medical, or other cultural policies.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Marilyn McEntyre

    Those of us who eat fruit need to read this book. Those of us who have driven by strawberry fields without asking ourselves about what it's like to pick strawberries all day need to read it. Those of us who wonder why migrant workers risk their lives to live in crowded, squalid housing, work at backbreaking jobs, and die early of preventable diseases need to read it. Seth Holmes, anthropologist and MD, spent months living and working with the poorest class of Mexican migrant workers from souther Those of us who eat fruit need to read this book. Those of us who have driven by strawberry fields without asking ourselves about what it's like to pick strawberries all day need to read it. Those of us who wonder why migrant workers risk their lives to live in crowded, squalid housing, work at backbreaking jobs, and die early of preventable diseases need to read it. Seth Holmes, anthropologist and MD, spent months living and working with the poorest class of Mexican migrant workers from southern Mexico to try to understand their plight not in terms of personal choices individuals make, but in terms of the social and economic structures that normalize a very real kind of violence to the poor and dispossessed. The book is not only readable but compelling, though it is also scrupulously scholarly. Holmes writes with lively compassion for those whose lives he documents. The book left me with renewed resolve to support those who are challenging the profound inequities built into the food production and healthcare systems we inhabit. And to ask more questions. And to eat the berries on my oatmeal with deepened respect and gratitude, and a measure of indignation on behalf of those who pick them but can't afford to eat them.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the situation of the ~1.5 million undocumented farmworkers in the US. The most compelling parts were those in which he talked about the interaction of the farmworkers with the medical system. No surprise: the healthcare providers turn out to be clueless and complicit, even the best-intentioned among them. It's in these sections that he manages to draw on his training as a doctor and an anthropologist to develop (what seems to I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about the situation of the ~1.5 million undocumented farmworkers in the US. The most compelling parts were those in which he talked about the interaction of the farmworkers with the medical system. No surprise: the healthcare providers turn out to be clueless and complicit, even the best-intentioned among them. It's in these sections that he manages to draw on his training as a doctor and an anthropologist to develop (what seems to me) a truly new perspective on the role of medical practitioners in challenging oppression. Shortly after beginning this book, I realized that Seth Holmes's office is down the hall from where I've just begun medical school! I'm looking forward to learning more about his ongoing projects - especially one (together with an older student in my program) about training residents in "structural competency" (http://structuralcompetency.org/) and measuring the impact of this training on their practices down the line.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    I am very glad I read this, and highly recommend it. It is an anthropological ethnography with many voices in it that we don't often hear (from Oaxacan Triqui pickers to other people in the agricultural and farm work industry), but whom we are intimately connected to every time we eat. It both confirmed and challenged many of my assumptions. I appreciated the public health focus, the context of migration and supposed individual choice, commentary on linguistic choices we make when discussing imm I am very glad I read this, and highly recommend it. It is an anthropological ethnography with many voices in it that we don't often hear (from Oaxacan Triqui pickers to other people in the agricultural and farm work industry), but whom we are intimately connected to every time we eat. It both confirmed and challenged many of my assumptions. I appreciated the public health focus, the context of migration and supposed individual choice, commentary on linguistic choices we make when discussing immigration, and, the stories of the folks the author worked and traveled beside. A really important and readable work.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    Really good "thick ethnography" of Trique migrant workers' connected stays in CA, WA and Oaxaca, most work in WA in strawberry fields. Not a direct emphasis on the field I'm more familiar with, engagement with, current food policy issues, but lots, in terms of immigration and the workers he got to know. Ch 2 and 3 on embodied knowledge & segregated workplace would be awesome for teaching, on both structural racism/s and white privilege. Also, the methodology section on why there is no "methodolo Really good "thick ethnography" of Trique migrant workers' connected stays in CA, WA and Oaxaca, most work in WA in strawberry fields. Not a direct emphasis on the field I'm more familiar with, engagement with, current food policy issues, but lots, in terms of immigration and the workers he got to know. Ch 2 and 3 on embodied knowledge & segregated workplace would be awesome for teaching, on both structural racism/s and white privilege. Also, the methodology section on why there is no "methodology section" is quite interesting. (I might have enjoyed a bit more case studies on women, esp. pesticides & pregnancy; all the case studies were of men.)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ahmed

    Incredibly moving and thought provoking. Radically shifted my understanding of migrant labor and the grounds for social change. His commentary and mention of Bourdieu's concept of "symbolic violence" is extremely eye-opening and highly relevant to the issue of migrant health and more broadly the high-horsed American "debate" on illegal immigration. His book does a powerful job expounding on how the American agriculture industry completely depends on migrant labor while simultaneously accepting ra Incredibly moving and thought provoking. Radically shifted my understanding of migrant labor and the grounds for social change. His commentary and mention of Bourdieu's concept of "symbolic violence" is extremely eye-opening and highly relevant to the issue of migrant health and more broadly the high-horsed American "debate" on illegal immigration. His book does a powerful job expounding on how the American agriculture industry completely depends on migrant labor while simultaneously accepting racism, denigration, stereotyping, and indecent living standards against this population.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Fleming

    3.5. Really important subject matter, but I was distracted from what I felt was the heart of the book's message by the author's particular ethnographic approach and writing style, which really did not click with me.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jacque

    Fantastic. One of the best ethnographies I've ever come across; this has motivated me to contemplate what types of advocacy I can do in order to support this population. It will blow you away.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elsie

    Truly eye opening! Thank you Seth for delving in to better understand the issues!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    this is a pretty good book to get some perspective on the experiences of indigenous Mexican migrant farmworkers. i thought the author's focus on his own experience rather than that of his "Triqui companions" in the first part of the book and the frequent sociological discussions about symbolic violence etc. were a bit excessive though

  15. 4 out of 5

    Din

    This isn’t a book you necessarily read to figure out that migrant farm workers are mistreated, overworked, underpaid, and without rights. Chances are, people who read this book are already familiar with these ideas. Seth Holmes does not introduce readers to the horrors of agribusiness as if it’s some revelation, and being an anthropologist, instead focuses on specific, named people and shares highly detailed accounts of their experiences. These people felt like non-fictional characters, protagon This isn’t a book you necessarily read to figure out that migrant farm workers are mistreated, overworked, underpaid, and without rights. Chances are, people who read this book are already familiar with these ideas. Seth Holmes does not introduce readers to the horrors of agribusiness as if it’s some revelation, and being an anthropologist, instead focuses on specific, named people and shares highly detailed accounts of their experiences. These people felt like non-fictional characters, protagonists of sorts, in a story of human suffering. It was an incredible book that was written through significant sacrifice in order to better understand a side of agricultural most are only peripherally aware of. While I find it easy to recommend to anyone who might be interested, I’m not without criticism for the book. Although the author speaks to a level of awareness toward the cultural erasure and political bias brought about by broad, non-specific terms like “Latino” (especially when talking about specific people when the term should most be avoided) he still, on several instances, falls into using them when talking about individuals. These were people he spent time talking to and knew by name, did he not think to inquire about their cultural identity? Situations like these, though few, seem to expose Seth’s microscopic view into a singular ethnic group with which he spends almost all of his time with (the Triqui people of Oaxaca) that he seems to lack the same level of interest in other people. While I truly enjoyed learning so much about a population of people I was not at all familiar with beforehand, his perspective on migrant workers was so insular to this one group of people that I cannot say I came away from it understanding the seasonal migrant experience so much as I became very familiar with the experiences of Triqui people specifically. This isn’t a bad thing in its own right, but he doesn’t frame his narrative this way, and makes many broad statements and anecdotes that simply can’t be stretched out from such a narrow lens. There is also the matter of how he built his relationship with the Triqui people. It is blatantly unethical, and even though he eventually gained their trust, he writes in detail about how his presence made them feel unsafe and he was not welcome. It is an egregious abuse of privilege and incredibly insensitive the way he just shows up in some rural Pueblo without connections and just starts asking these people point blank if he can illegally cross the border with them for research.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Leighton

    Very powerful ethnographic study of Triqui migrants (from Southern Oaxaca, Mexico) who wreck their bodies so that we can have cheap fresh berries. Seth Homes is both a medical doctor and an anthropologist who lives and works with the Triqui both as they labor to pick fruit in Washington and as they migrate south to pick in California; he also lives with them in Oaxaca, Mexico and attempts to cross the desert with them into the US. I have assigned this in my high school anthropology class and the Very powerful ethnographic study of Triqui migrants (from Southern Oaxaca, Mexico) who wreck their bodies so that we can have cheap fresh berries. Seth Homes is both a medical doctor and an anthropologist who lives and works with the Triqui both as they labor to pick fruit in Washington and as they migrate south to pick in California; he also lives with them in Oaxaca, Mexico and attempts to cross the desert with them into the US. I have assigned this in my high school anthropology class and the students have responded well to it. Many of my students have parents who migrated to the US and understand it is not something one does lightly; that the conditions in which you live have to be horrid to make the dangers of crossing and then working in fields that are physically demanding and low paying worth taking the risk. Holmes' insight into the structural causes of migrant suffering and the many ways in which the health care system has failed them (their bodies are damaged by the harsh working conditions, yet most don't qualify for Medicaid or receive appropriate workman's comp) - lack of appropriate translators, assumptions that they speak Spanish because they are "Mexican," the challenges of providing health care to people who are forced to move to find work, the difficulties of providing treatment when "rest" is not an option and the living conditions are awful. I also very much liked his discussion of symbolic violence - how both sides come to believe that this division of labor is "natural" - that Triqui bodies are built for this work and they don't mind it - reminiscent of slaves don't feel the heat and are built to pick cotton. The Inhumane ways the pickers are treated - the derogatory names, the ways they are cheated out of pay, the squalid living conditions justified because "they are used to living like that" are tragic. Holmes believes the first step is making people aware that these conditions exist and that this division is not "natural". He also offers steps that can be taken.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    A great distillation (made from extensive fieldwork in the California/Skagit Valley) that builds from theoretical frameworks from Bourdieu primarily to talk about the ways in which indigenous Triqui laborers experience agricultural work as physically and emotionally taxing. Holmes alternates between studies of structural and symbolic violence to see how these laborers experience the physical exhaustion of picking apples, strawberries & blueberries in an array of farming landscapes, and how both A great distillation (made from extensive fieldwork in the California/Skagit Valley) that builds from theoretical frameworks from Bourdieu primarily to talk about the ways in which indigenous Triqui laborers experience agricultural work as physically and emotionally taxing. Holmes alternates between studies of structural and symbolic violence to see how these laborers experience the physical exhaustion of picking apples, strawberries & blueberries in an array of farming landscapes, and how both the farm structure--in the Skagit Valley, made from a historic Japanese-American family--and the clinics and hospitals in which these laborers receive treatment are hierarchies of racialized inequality. He looks at how laborers develop stress injuries--headaches from the constant onslaught of criticism and racialized disdain, to tendonitis, to gastrointestinal distress--and how those injuries, often made partially from past trauma, are ignored or misread via the "clinical gaze." Holmes does extensive, important work to critique his own positionality as a white scholar in the text, particularly as he can take steps to alleviate his own physical pain through medical and therapeutic resources to which the laborers do not have access. He also notes how important it is to read bodies in space in order to fully understand the experiences of labor and medicine, and constantly weaves both Western and indigenous medical practices into the documentation of the laborers' pursuit of better health and a pain-free life. Perhaps most importantly, he leverages a key critique of the erasure of indigenous peoples in the monolithic treatment of "laborers" or "farmworkers" as Central American or Mexican, an erasure that fails to acknowledge how many divisions are made within those groups that advantage Mestizo laborers over the Triqui. It is clear from this work how much attention and care he has given to his subject, and the book is an important intervention in studies of industrialized agriculture and global migration.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christie Bane

    The fault with this book is not so much that there’s anything wrong with the book, it’s that I was expecting something different, something more fun to read, something a little more pop sociological. This was more like someone’s PhD thesis in sociology, lightened up just enough to pass as a general interest book. The author spent a lot of time with migrant workers from Oaxaca who were working as pickers in the strawberry fields in Washington State. What did I find in there? Everything I expected The fault with this book is not so much that there’s anything wrong with the book, it’s that I was expecting something different, something more fun to read, something a little more pop sociological. This was more like someone’s PhD thesis in sociology, lightened up just enough to pass as a general interest book. The author spent a lot of time with migrant workers from Oaxaca who were working as pickers in the strawberry fields in Washington State. What did I find in there? Everything I expected. The work is incredibly physically difficult and prematurely ruins their bodies; the pickers are treated as sub-human by the other farm workers and society in general; it’s difficult for them to get medical care; any professionals helping them generally don’t look closely at their circumstances; there aren’t always translators available (especially because these people don’t speak Spanish, but a different native language). I mean, all that stuff is terrible and all, but the thing is, we all know it already and no one seems to feel the responsibility of doing something about it. So this book just documents something that may or may not ever change. I mean, I would totally pay more for fruits and vegetables— even a lot more, even twice as much — if it meant that the people picking them could have a decent life, but what can one person do to make that happen? Nothing. So this book really just made me feel sort of guilty for eating the amount of produce I eat without giving me a path for discharging that guilt.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brianna Egan

    Incredible ethnographical portrait of migrant farmworker issues in the US today, particularly of those faced by Triqui and other indigenous migrant groups from Mexico. Seth Holmes unfolds complex binds in our economic and agricultural system through an embodied ethnography--in much the same way Paul Farmer advocates for "accompaniment" of the poor. Holmes explores the structural violence present in NAFTA (which is a major driver in destabilizing indigenous Mexican corn-farming families), in the Incredible ethnographical portrait of migrant farmworker issues in the US today, particularly of those faced by Triqui and other indigenous migrant groups from Mexico. Seth Holmes unfolds complex binds in our economic and agricultural system through an embodied ethnography--in much the same way Paul Farmer advocates for "accompaniment" of the poor. Holmes explores the structural violence present in NAFTA (which is a major driver in destabilizing indigenous Mexican corn-farming families), in the crossing of the border (the desert only made more perilous by threats from the Border Patrol), in the fields (ripe with an ethnic hierarchy that determines one's living and working conditions, treatment, and rights; ripe, too, with back-breaking work), and in well-meaning but under-staffed and ill-informed medical clinics. This book is for anyone looking to get a better understanding of the human rights issues present in our modern food system. For anyone looking to better understand the complex economic drivers that force displacement and migration on vulnerable communities. For anyone, who like me, finds themselves living and working in a farmworking community but without ties or connections to the place and seeking a more nuanced understanding of it all to become a better community member.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Danny

    Impactful ethnography. Seth Holmes enters the world of Mexican seasonal migrants, and it's every bit as brutal as you'd imagine it to be. The book is at its best when Holmes places himself in the middle of the narrative, sharing how he experienced the border crossing coyotes, the exhaustion from fruit picking and the work hierarchy that he went on to place a particular role in. There's no issue of accessibility. The book is written so that a wide audience can gain insight into the dire migration Impactful ethnography. Seth Holmes enters the world of Mexican seasonal migrants, and it's every bit as brutal as you'd imagine it to be. The book is at its best when Holmes places himself in the middle of the narrative, sharing how he experienced the border crossing coyotes, the exhaustion from fruit picking and the work hierarchy that he went on to place a particular role in. There's no issue of accessibility. The book is written so that a wide audience can gain insight into the dire migration dynamics and see some of the fallacies of stereotypical beliefs among nearby residents without any direct contact to the workers, as well as how these beliefs become self-reinforcing. The only thing that I didn't find convincing was the way that individual injuries were linked to systemic violence. Not that I am in significant disagreement, but simply that the (over)theoreticisation reminded me of why I'm not always the biggest fan of anthropology. Still, please read this.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Kim

    Rating 5/5 Absolutely love and appreciate this book! Before reading this book, I always believed that there is a need for individuals to experience for themselves what a community is going through instead of just assuming a community’s situation based on available data. For this reason, I really appreciated how Holmes had put himself in a position to embody himself in his fieldwork and experience what the Triqui migrants are experiencing through his own body. I really wish that there are more ack Rating 5/5 Absolutely love and appreciate this book! Before reading this book, I always believed that there is a need for individuals to experience for themselves what a community is going through instead of just assuming a community’s situation based on available data. For this reason, I really appreciated how Holmes had put himself in a position to embody himself in his fieldwork and experience what the Triqui migrants are experiencing through his own body. I really wish that there are more acknowledgments and awareness in works like these in the scientific community, especially since I truly believe that there is a need for more interdisciplinary works in order to see more effective changes in the world.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Abby Ramos

    Great book! Very informative about the struggles that farmworkers go through. Added a unique perspective. There are sections where the author is sympathetic to the farm owners which left me very confused given the inherent hierarchy between the workers and owners. The farm owners are still financially gaining a whole lot more than the workers. Other than that, the book is informative. Would like to see an update since this book deals with farmworkers from Burlington/Mount Vernon, Washington wher Great book! Very informative about the struggles that farmworkers go through. Added a unique perspective. There are sections where the author is sympathetic to the farm owners which left me very confused given the inherent hierarchy between the workers and owners. The farm owners are still financially gaining a whole lot more than the workers. Other than that, the book is informative. Would like to see an update since this book deals with farmworkers from Burlington/Mount Vernon, Washington where farmworkers have created a Union.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dea Wages

    Beautifully heartbreaking, invitingly insightful. Seth Holmes has taken an American political past-time conversation on migrant workers, and turned it into a gripping fear monger omg tale of The Boarder, The Health, and Social treatment of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. His first-hand account of living, and humanizing humans that many Americans would visualize and consider “less than human” because of their status, whether social or labor, has shed just enough light on the subject of migrant Beautifully heartbreaking, invitingly insightful. Seth Holmes has taken an American political past-time conversation on migrant workers, and turned it into a gripping fear monger omg tale of The Boarder, The Health, and Social treatment of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. His first-hand account of living, and humanizing humans that many Americans would visualize and consider “less than human” because of their status, whether social or labor, has shed just enough light on the subject of migrant workers. I hope to see a return of this narrative.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Judith

    I'm glad I read this book. I feel like a am a better-informed citizen and consumer because of it. If you eat fresh fruit - especially from Washington's Skagit Valley or the Central Valley of California, this is part of the story of how it gets to your plate. If you care about social justice for workers and/or immigrants, this is also worth reading. It is an ethnographic study (i.e. written in an academic format with lots of references) but it is also a very personal story.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A sociological examination of migrant farm workers in the US by a medical student who decided to work in the fields for a few years. It's fairly heavy on the medical emphases, but nonetheless very eye-opening to the issues and suffering of undocumented migrants from indigenous Mexico in the berry fields of Washington and California. The first chapter retelling his illegal border crossing is excellent.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This was a really interesting and insightful view into the terrible conditions migrant farmworkers face in today's neoliberal agro-business. The only reason I am giving it 3 stars is because it took me a long time to get through the dense chapters, and I found some of it really repetitive, but as far as the message goes it was phenomenal. If more people knew about the horrible conditions of these farmworkers then we could structurally change the farm industry.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Fong Kirst

    This is an extraordinary and touching ethnography. It reveals the Triqui people's difficult life with perpetual uncertainty and risk. It makes the familiarity of fruit strange and makes the reader familiar with an otherwise underrepresented suffering. It uncovers the underlying social structures, global neoliberalism, and hegemonic state power negatively and severely impacting and continually influencing people who live in the bottom rank of globalized societies.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Olson

    Question everything about societal structure and norms. Don’t normalize racism. No group of people is “less than” or deserving of less. Don’t support politicians or policies that treat people as such. Check your privilege. Acknowledge how many steps ahead you are just by being born a certain color in a certain economic setting. Read more. Travel more. Learn more. Empathize more. Learn fucking Spanish.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    A great introduction to health disparities and the challenges faced by migrant workers. Occasionally frustrating because the challenges he poses are so impossible and because the author seems perpetually dissatisfied with even the most charitable people he speaks to... but it seeded a lot of meaningful conversations for me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in workers rights, migration issues, and sustainable agriculture. I thoroughly enjoyed Holmes' style and the content is *important!*, but his over reliance on Bordieu and lack of anything constructive at the end left me feeling like the book could have done more.

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