The Value of Labor

Thoughts on Seth Holmes

Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States by Seth M. Holmes (2013) is a powerful narrative about Mexican migrant farm workers and their struggle for survival in the precarious aftermath of the NAFTA trade agreement. Holmes’ ethnographic fieldwork with the indigenous Triqui and Mixtec peoples, showcased the meaning of activist anthropological work as he submerged himself into the arduous work of farm labor to better address the inequalities within the agriculture and healthcare systems.

Born with the disadvantage of being indigenous, the Triqui and Mixtec are sentenced to a life of instability and injustice as they navigate the structural powers that entrap them in a life of servitude. Despite being Mexican citizens, their lack of the Spanish language and “dirty” appearance, (2013:67) ostracize them from the larger Mexican community, making them prime targets of state-sanctioned abuses of power. Holmes (2013) points out that while they are persecuted and culturally stigmatized, the Mexican government handsomely profits off the fruits of their labor; taking no issue with the proliferation of racism so long as it advances the Mexican economy. Ultimately, Holmes argues that rights are dependant on the bodies situation between color and location. Following in the footsteps of his informants, Holmes crosses the Mexico-US border with his migrant collaborators, only to realize that his privilege and academic authority will always keep him from truly empathizing.  

Aside from escaping most legal repercussions, Holmes openly admits to attending the gym to relieve his pain from working on the farm. This little luxury further exemplifies the social strata that separate him from his indigenous collaborators; he can leave at any time, they cannot. Structural and symbolic violence is subtly naturalized (2013:44) decimating the illusionary idea of choice. Is there a choice involved when your only options are starvation or “illegal” migratory farm work?

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