My early understanding about Thanksgiving was related to the Pilgrims that would have starved if not for the help of the local Indian people. Thanksgiving at that moment was as genuine as it could be given that the food provided to those early settlers meant the difference between their life and death.
To be sure, Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest and its bounty. Turkey and all of its trimmings symbolize the contentment with a country that returns so much for our sacrifice.
Our sacrifice however, pales in comparison to those that work the fields harvesting the food that we eat every day at our dinner table. For example, I am reminded this Thanksgiving of the thousands of migrant and seasonal farm workers that have lost their livelihood because of hurricanes along our east coast.
I hear and see the California fires and think of the devastation they leave behind for everyone there. I especially think about the migrant workers that in “good times” are considered “homeless” and now they have nowhere to go.
Our family was part of that migrant community that after World War II found itself coming out every year from South Texas to work the cotton fields there and in Arkansas, potatoes in Missouri, beets, tomatoes and corn in Ohio and cherry and mint in Michigan among other states. On the way to Texas after the harvest one year, my grandfather’s truck full of people had a terrible accident where my oldest uncle died and an aunt broke her back.
The clan then decided to settle down in Central Texas to work the agricultural fields of the Brazos River Valley. Less than two years later our family was contracted by Great Western Sugar Company to come to Logan County in Colorado to work the beet and corn crops in a farm that also happen to have 24 dairy cows that had to be milked twice a day.
After a year on that farm near Sterling, Colorado my father had help in securing a job in a clay brick and pipe manufacturing plant on 45th and Fox on what is today the southwest corner of I-25 and I-70. Even then, mom would take the family to work the beet and vegetable fields of Roggen, Hudson, Wiggins, Henderson, Brighton and Fort Lupton.
There were also summers when mom took us back to Central Texas to work the cotton fields. I particularly remember a summer when she was contracted to manage a crew of African Americans from New Orleans on the same farm we had left to go to Colorado.
Now that I help with early childhood education programs for children of migrant worker families, I find that my life experience leads to a deeper understanding of the elementary values of that way of life and those that find happiness in the little things hard work can bring. I have also come to understand that being poor is not a limitation to finding happiness.
At the same time, there must be a special place for those that toil under unforgiving conditions that very few others can bare to maintain a soil and, together with the land, bring to the table a harvest that enriches our lives every season of every year. In giving thanks for our bounty we can also recognize the unique workers that help make it possible.
Farm workers do what they do to take care of their families. We celebrate Thanksgiving to enjoy what has been provided by others.