Thursday, February 19, 2009

educating our kids

My son was out sick from school the other day. He could have gone in, I guess, but it's not like he would have learned much if he had. About one day in ten or twenty I'm glad they're in school. Most folks could probably do better at home if they didn't have to work. And he might have passed on his vomit bug to some other family less able to have a parent stay home with a sick kid. Considering the insane number of days the schools don't have class already - no school last Friday, this Monday or this Friday, por exemplo - it's amazing we don't all get fired.

I am fortunate that one of my part-time jobs I can do from home sometimes. But I did have a couple of errands, and my son seemed up to it, so. We put his bucket in the back seat with him, stopped at Walgreen's for some Gatorade, and proceeded with caution. No sharp turns, etc.

My final errand, before we had to pick up my other son from school, was to stop by some apartments I'd heard about. Every summer one of the three big migrant farmworker streams in the US spins off a minor streamlet from Texas to Central Illinois, and the mostly Mexican workers stay through corn shucking. A few even try to ride out the winter. This one would have been a bad winter to start that if you're from a hot climate. Sixteen below was a little too cold even for me, and I left Mississippi years ago for Buffalo, NY.

These are apartments north of town where local crew leaders have been housing farmworkers. The local seed farmers contract their labor through crew leaders, as in other parts, and the crew leaders supply the workers, arrange for their housing, etc. They get paid for that, and if they can find cheaper accomodations, they can keep the difference. You see where this is going.

My son had never seen anything quite like these apartments, I realized. He'd never even seen anything like the trailer park of my boyhood - old mattresses leaned up against trailers outside, old tires, junk, scrub, weeds - nor the housing projects in my home town, nor Perkin's Alley. And these apartments were worse: garbage heaped everywhere, offensive smells, broken fixtures dangling here and there, bent doors with padlocks and deep gouges in them, smashed-up cars, ruts in the earth all around the buildings, etc. My friend who told me about them swears they are worse inside, and it seems likely. Does beat some of the farmworker accomodations around Immokalee, Florida, but a slave ship is about the only thing that wouldn't be an improvement over some of those camps.

I noticed a Latino man taking some garbage to the dumpster and spoke to him. "Too much," I said. He agreed. "You live here." He nodded, a little suspiciously. "What's it like?" Nothing. "Como es?" Then he spoke: "Como es what? Los apartementos?" "Yeah, si." "You can ask him." Behind me an Anglo man in brown coveralls was bringing some more garbage. He looked like he worked there, so I just let it drop and joined my son in the car.

I asked my son what he thought as we left. "Those apartments don't look like a very nice place to live," he said. No, they didn't. I told him about the farmworkers. He has heard me talk about them before. I told him they often don't have water to drink in the fields here, like in Florida, or toilet facilities. He shook his head. Later when I got the photos developed, I heard him telling his mother and brother about it. A+, I thought, and maybe the best education he's had this year.

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