The average farm worker in Oregon makes $22,000 per year. The average deckhand in the fishing industry makes $36,000 per year. I think the demands of both jobs are equally rigorous. Why the difference?
It is about whom you know and where you live. In our state it is also about ethnicity or, put bluntly, the color of your skin. One of the complaints that we often hear is that immigrants are taking jobs from United States citizens. No, they are not taking the good jobs. They arent dockworkers and fisherman here in Oregon, even though our state has lots of those jobs. Our Oregon immigrants are frequently in the fields.
We need these jobs filled. There is not a rush of workers fighting to work at minimum wage in the field when they can work at minimum wage indoors. No, we depend on the shadow workers to meet the need. Maybe their papers arent quite right or maybe they dont speak English. We can use them and they work hard for us. They help put food on our tables, wine in our glass and plants in our yards.
And they work, early and late, rain or shine, with no job security and no benefits. Yes, we need them. They are not taking jobs from our locals. They do the work we wont do, for minimum wage. And are they taking our jobs? No, we dont want the jobs.
This is the story of our country. We grow and prosper on the backs of the newest immigrants. What makes this system work is that they assimilate and they take on higher paying jobs, or they take risks and start up small businesses. They create jobs and make way for a new wave of immigrants. That does not justify the low wages or harsh working conditions, but it is our heritage.
We need them. Without them our future is dim. They should remind us of our ancestors. They have the same fire in the belly to live in a country that will allow them to prosper and be free. They naively hope that they will be accepted. No, many tell them to go home.
Who defines home? Home is a word for our location and our grounding. That is it. All that we have is transient and will be passed on to the future. We dont own it for an eternity. It is not ours. We are just caretakers. We must accept that it is up to us to pass it on as it was passed on to us. We have no control over the future, from the grave.
There are bumps on the road for our newest immigrants. The usual bump is the biggest racism. It is not new. We are seeing it now in its ugliest form in Ferguson, Mo. That is just a taste of the reality for many of our citizens and for our newcomers. It is a blight that has always been with us.
It is time to rise to the alleged standards of our roots. Welcome all, treat all people as equals, and share what is not ours but is in our care for the future.
Kris Bledsoe is a Dayton resident