WITH THESE HANDS by Daniel Rothenberg


The Hidden World of Migrant Farmworkers Today
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You’ll never again take the produce on your supermarket shelf for granted after reading this illuminating account. At this point, the incredible shrinking paycheck has become a fact of the American worker’s life. Just how little progress some of America’s most disenfranchised have made since Civil War days, however, comes poignantly clear in this ably written chronicle of the 700,000 migrant workers who sometimes literally kill themselves to bring food to our tables. The book is comprised of real people talking, interspersed with Rothenberg’s statistics and analysis. Although the author might have attacked his topic with an agenda—he was an outreach worker and paralegal for a federally funded legal-services program that represented farmworkers—he instead lets both sides speak. All concerned are remarkably candid, even those who regularly break the law. (Pseudonyms are used.) Contractors, for instance, speak of luring employees to work with drugs, loaning money at inflated rates of interest, and witholding tax and Social Security payments. “Breaking the law is the only way you can make decent money,” says Manuel Gomez, a contractor who finds workers for California growers. He records only some of his workers’ hours and pay on the computer, then pockets the money he might otherwise have paid in Social Security or taxes. “The truth is the worker hardly notices,” he concludes, noting most of them are illegal aliens. “They don’t even use real Social Security numbers, so we’re not stealing from the workers. We’re just stealing from the government. I don’t see it as all that bad.” Altogether, Rothenberg interviews more than 250 people, including workers and their families, border patrolmen, political lobbyists, union organizers, coyotes who smuggle workers across the border, doctors who care for farmworkers, and growers. A fascinating portrait of an invisible class and an evocative mandate for social change. (34 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1998
ISBN: 0-15-100205-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998