Blueberries grow in Maine, but where do Boo Berries grow?
Chapter Two of Jeanne Marie Laskas' new book Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make the Country Work describes how migrant workers "rake" wild blueberries in Maine . . . this is the jackpot of migrant piece-work: a good raker can fill one hundred boxes on a good day, and at $2.25 a box, that adds up to over $1300 dolars in a week -- far more than a migrant can earn picking peaches in Georgia, or oranges in Florida, more than gathering mushrooms in Pennsylvania, or tomatoes in New Jersey -- so the migrant in the "East coast stream" dutifully picks those other crops, but Maine is the prize at the end of the rainbow . . . and the odd thing is, in the area of Northern Maine where the picking happens, the unemployment rate is 12%, yet no natives pick . . . they used to pick, it was a communal, agrarian thing, but now the work is considered too hard, and though the money is good, it is left to the migrants -- who are supposed to be documented . . . but it's rather easy to fake documentation, as one said, "E-Verify is a joke," and so the increased security on our border -- the beefed up border patrol and federal agents -- actually has a paradoxical effect: it keeps migrants in America longer, because they are afraid to go home and visit, for fear that they won't be able to get back to work in America, or that it will be too costly to sneak across the border . . . so this often homeless underground of migrant workers that provide us with such cheap produce are trapped here, making pretty good money and wiring much of it home to Mexico or Peru or wherever . . . Eric Sclosser details the West coast version of this "shadow economy" in his book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market and it's the same situation, strawberry picking is good cash, but no white folk ever last more than a day at it . . . and the thrust of all this is that I really shouldn't complain about the seventy descriptive essays I have to grade (but maybe if I got paid by the piece, I would work harder and faster at it).