They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields takes the reader on an ethnographic tour of the melon and corn harvesting fields of California’s Central Valley to understand why farmworkers suffer heatstroke and chronic illness at rates higher than workers in any other industry. Through captivating accounts of the daily lives of a core group of farmworkers over nearly a decade, Sarah Bronwen Horton documents in startling detail how a tightly interwoven web of public policies and private interests creates exceptional and needless suffering.
Sarah Bronwen Horton is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado, Denver.
"This is a superb ethnography of health and migrant illegality. Horton brilliantly captures how precarious legal status, intensified immigration enforcement practices, paltry occupational protections, and inadequate access to health care combine to render undocumented migrant farmworkers exceptionally vulnerable to illness and death."—Jonathan Xavier Inda, author of Targeting Immigrants: Government, Technology, and Ethics
"With rich social texture, Horton uses the lens of illness to peel away the layers of disadvantage that configure farmworkers’ lives (and deaths). This sobering, moving ethnography skillfully illuminates the links between the 'wasted' bodies of migrant workers in the fields and policy and business interests to expose the far-reaching, harmful effects of today’s immigration regime. It is impactful, urgent, and a must-read."—Cecilia Menjívar, author of Enduring Violence: Ladina Women's Lives in Guatemala
"This brilliant and engaged ethnography of the harsh daily realities of farmworkers’ lives reveals the social origins and political production of a deadly syndemic among the poorest and least protected sector of the American working class. Facing the combined adverse effects of immigration policies, labor laws, and unhealthy working conditions in the unrelenting California sun, the farmworkers intimately studied by Horton over several years suffer from the deadly interaction of heat-related diseases, hypertension/cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. But while their plight is often portrayed as natural or a product of their own lifestyles, Horton’s empathetic examination of the lives and perspectives of these individuals shows how structural violence is generated and gets under the skin to create disease and early mortality in a largely hidden population of hard-working people."—Merrill Singer, author of Introduction to Syndemics: A Systems Approach to Public Health and Community Health
“They Leave Their Kidneys in the Fields brings the voices of men and women working in California’s melon, corn, and tomato fields to the fore, telling their stories of laboring in factory-like conditions, with little job security, curtailed breaks, and inadequate access to water and shade. Through Horton’s graphic descriptions, the reader can almost feel the scorching heat and see the reddened faces of workers on break. Few studies have brought together such vivid details and analytic insights about the relationship between immigration, labor conditions, and long-term health consequences together in one volume. This is ethnography at its finest."—Louise Lamphere, author of Sunbelt Working Mothers: Reconciling Family and Factory
“A groundbreaking portrait of US farmworkers. While this book is sure to be an instant classic in anthropology, its implications are broad and vitally important. Horton’s extended fieldwork, critical insights, in-depth explanation of illness, and humanizing portrayal of migrant farmworkers underscores the need for a fundamental rethinking of agricultural and immigration policies in the United States.”—Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, author of Becoming Legal: Immigration Law and Mixed Status Families and Labor and Legality: An Ethnography of a Mexican Immigrant Network