Seth Holmes didn’t understand the labor conditions endured by migrant farm workers until he began working beside them.
For five years, the physician and anthropology professor traveled with migrants back and forth from Oaxaca up the West Coast. He helped them pick strawberries and harvest corn. He accompanied sick workers to clinics and hospitals, and he mourned his friends at funerals.
On March 13, he will share accounts of his experiences during a free lecture from 4:30-6 p.m. in the Hatfield Library at Willamette University.
Sponsored by the Latin American Studies and Anthropology departments, the talk will be based on Holmes’ 2013 book, “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States.”
“In many ways, there is an exchange of fresh fruit for broken bodies, in which one group of people sacrifice their own health to harvest the fruit and vegetables that make the rest of us healthy,” Holmes says. “I hope this exchange will be respected in ways that move us toward fair immigration reform and healthcare reform for all.”
Holmes teaches medical anthropology and public health at the University of California, Berkeley. He embarked on his research project several years ago to provide insight into the lives of farmworkers. Over time, he learned they often work difficult, long hours to provide others with food — yet they can not afford to feed their own families.
“I can no longer look at or eat a strawberry or blueberry without remembering the sicknesses and injuries of my former companions brought on by the work they do,” he says. “I can no longer listen to the immigration debates going on right now in Washington, D.C., without thinking about my Triqui friends, Macario, Samuel and Crescencio.”
Another person who made a profound impact on Holmes was a farmworker named Abelino, an indigenous Triqui man from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. A father of four, Abelino could not find work in his home village, so he migrated to Washington State to pick berries.
While Holmes was working alongside Abelino, the farmworker experienced sudden, severe knee pain. The injury — caused by harvesting berries seven days a week while crouched over — was treated with physical therapy and steroid injections but never fully healed.
“Many farmworkers like Abelino are hurt each year as they work to provide fresh food for the rest of us. What’s more, they rarely seek medical care in the U.S. because they can’t afford to miss work,” Holmes says. “I hope my talk and my book will bring the stories of real farmworkers in the Pacific Northwest to the table.”