FRUIT FIELDS IN MY BLOOD: Okie Migrants in the West by Toby F. Sonneman

FRUIT FIELDS IN MY BLOOD: Okie Migrants in the West

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Absorbing memoir/history of migrant work and workers by anthropologist Sonneman, herself a former migrant worker. Though a drop out from mainstream society who worked in orchards and citrus groves for 15 years, Sonneman puts her social-science education to good use in this humane, unsentimental, and thorough study of near-poverty in America's agricultural community. Weaving together personal experience, anecdotes, and research gathered since 1973, Sonneman and her husband, Rick Steigmeyer (who took many of the book's 173 b&w photographs), create a tapestry of words, pictures, feelings, and historical facts, evoking with an almost tribal grasp of its values the way of life of migrant pickers. Presented here, along with the beauty of early mornings and a real sense of freedom, are suspicious townspeople, rural police, and filthy toilets. And good history: the text offers a bridge to the Great Depression and abounds with Olde observations, wit, and values--a submerged tradition in danger of disappearing with the advent of illegal immigrants who will work for even leas. Through it all run the themes of exploitation, industrialization, labor-union failure, and the driving away from the earth of people close to it. Speaking of the old-timers, migrant-worker Walter Williams observes that ""pride was the thing that kept them going in the face of the shame they may have felt."" That shame is the shame of the poor in a commercial culture; Sonneman's migrants are people for whom money, retirement plans, and insurance have leas magic than work, community, and the land. For an anthropologist to identify so with a group under study raises ethical considerations, but Sonneman's very committed text passes the test. Where it differs from 30's writing is in its lack of drive, fire, and eloquence: The social scientist in Sonneman makes her an accurate, detached observer--good enough to win a citation of merit from the Western States Book Awards--but doesn't produce memorable writing.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1992
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Univ. of Idaho Press