This I Believe

Cheryl - Overland Park, Kansas
Entered on April 25, 2007

I believe in child labor.

Not the labor of children in Honduras or China or Bangladesh.

No, I believe in the labor of the children of the privileged, the elite, the entitled, the educated, and the middle class.

For two summers when I was ten and eleven years old, my father sent me and my brother and sister to work in the commercial strawberry fields of Washington state. Every day for a month we worked side-by-side with migrant workers named “Blondie,” “Rosie,” and “Juan.” Crawling on our hands and knees, we earned 75 cents for a flat of hand-picked, de-stemmed strawberries. By the end of the day, we were tired, tanned, dirty, and smeared with the juice of strawberries snuck into our month or smashed on our face by a sibling. On more than one occasion, we were mistaken for migrant children and turned away by the guard at the Naval Air Station where my dad served as Chaplain. The migrant workers, indeed, served as our surrogate parents during the day, looking out for us and treating us with kindness.

Our summer’s earnings, never totaling more than seventy five to one hundred dollars, were matched by my father and placed in our savings accounts. He did this with Christmas and birthday money, too. Fifteen years later, during another summer, I used my “strawberry money” to travel to Europe, a world-expanding experience. Yet in many ways my world had already been opened up during the summers I labored in the strawberry fields. I learned there the value of hard work. I learned what an “outhouse” was and had my vocabulary expanded by words I saw scribbled on it. I learned that there is no work that is beneath me. And I learned about the hard work, dignity, kindness and humanity of those who help bring food to our tables.

Recently I read a comment by Karl Rove that brought back memories of those strawberry picking days of my youth. Seeking to promote and justify the Bush Administration’s immigration policy, Rove quipped that he didn’t want his 17 year old son “to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas.”

“That’s exactly what your son needs to do,” I found myself yelling at the computer. Be mistaken for a migrant worker. Experience the life of those who work so hard and earn so little. Learn the value and dignity of hard work and the people who do it.

I believe in child labor.