In the latest issue of Gastronomica, Julie Guthman, author of Agrarian Dreams and Weighing In, interviews fellow UC Press author Seth Holmes about the lives of Mexican migrant workers and the research that went into his book, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. Holmes, a medical anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, spent five years in the field alongside migrant workers berry-picking, traveling back and forth from Oaxaca up the West Coast, and even landing in jail after an illegal attempt to cross the border.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Holmes talks about comparisons to Paul Farmer, how he sees his role as a public intellectual, and what he hopes the public will understand about the lives of undocumented immigrants after reading Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies. Here’s an excerpt:
Your book tells a vivid story of the physical (and mental) suffering that farmworkers in the U.S. systematically face. Can you elaborate on some of the causes/explanations for this?
In the U.S., our food system is structured with a more or less visible hierarchy of ethnicity and citizenship. Within this system, indigenous or native Mexicans who are undocumented in the U.S. are often working and living within very difficult conditions. These housing and working conditions have significantly harmful effects on their bodies and well-being.
Why do you call this “structural violence”? What is the significance of thinking about health inequalities in this way?
This ethnicity and citizenship hierarchy, then, is produced by larger structural forces, such as transnational immigration and economic policies, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As I explain in the book, policies such as NAFTA have played into the widespread phenomenon of dispossession of indigenous Mexicans from their own family farms and ancestral lands in exchange for a dangerous border crossing and physically and mentally harmful wage labor on U.S. farms.