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A Gringo in the Lettuce Fields: Note-Taking

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A. Question: What is it like to do the back-breaking work of immigrants? To find out, Gabriel Thompson spent a year working alongside immigrants, who thought he was either crazy or an undercover immigration agent. B. He stooped over lettuce fields in Arizona, and worked the graveyard shift at a chicken slaughterhouse in rural Alabama. He dodged taxis—not always successfully—as a bicycle delivery “boy” for an upscale Manhattan restaurant, and was fired from a flower shop by a boss who, he quickly realized, was nuts. C. As one coworker explained, “These jobs make you old quick.” Keeping Thompson in bed, where he suffers recurring nightmares involving iceberg lettuce and chicken carcasses. D. Thompson shines a bright light on the underside of the American economy, exposing harsh working conditions, union busting, and lax government enforcement—while telling the stories of workers, undocumented immigrants, and desperate US citizens alike, forced to live with chronic pain in the pursuit of $8 an hour.

E. Gabriel Thompson may have spent two months cutting lettuce in the hot fields of Yuma. He had his first glimpses of the backbreaking work of immigrant laborers just outside Watsonville. F. Working in the lettuce fields left Thompson physically drained, and he never did get good enough to keep up with la maquina, the machine that putters along the rows driving the pace of the crews. G. Thompson, spent a year of his life working first in the fields, then in a chicken slaughterhouse in Alabama, then in a flower shop and finally as a delivery boy in Manhattan.

H. Quote: “No matter where you fall on the immigration question, it would probably be helpful before you become so certain of your ideas to understand what they go through,” he says. “People are generally ignorant about what the day-to-day life experience of immigrants is, and how this work is benefiting even the most anti-immigration activists.” I. Question: In a world interested in local, organic and slow food, Thompson imagined consumers not only asking “Is it organic?” but also “Are the farm workers getting a living wage?'” So he challenged himself to highlight that need by getting these invisible jobs and keeping them.

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