Fiddling with the controls, Eric thinks how easy this job will be with a map like this. “I remember the first house we stopped at,” recalls Eric. Very run down, and a sewer line just coming right out the side of the house. It’s the kind of camp Zach calls “under the radar.” Unlike camps for workers on temporary H2A visas, which are supposed to meet minimal housing standards (though enforcement is often lacking), these out-of-sight hovels are for undocumented workers who know better than to complain about accommodations.There was sewage spreading onto the yard.” Inside was a Latino family with four young kids. “It still is.” Like most stables, the central passageway is lined on either side by stalls. At under-the-radars, roofs might leak, refrigerators may not keep food cold enough to ward off gut-wrenching bacteria, and the drinking water is often unfit for human consumption.
Their participation also allows Safistas from more privileged backgrounds to learn about the farmworker experience not only from workers the meet in the fields, but from their peers as well.
Eric Britton was born in June 1992 — the very month SAF first sent students into the fields.
Eric filled out COE forms as Zach explained the education program to the family and handed out extras he always keeps in the car: hygiene kits containing things like diapers, wipes, toothpaste. “She called her two sisters and some neighbors over. Which is fitting: Farmworkers are not so much housed in these aging metal boxes as stored overnight. It’s already late and the workers are inside, probably watching soccer and drinking Bud Light — the blue metal empties are everywhere. Eric notices an air conditioner, refrigerator and microwave all connected by a single extension cord.
We signed up three or four families, right on that one stop.” Later they approached a house with all the right signs: clotheslines, windows blocked by droopy bed sheets and a car with Florida plates. ” The first thing they noticed was the stocky man’s pale skin and sleeveless white t-shirt, followed by the face of a woman, equally irritated, yanking the door wider to see who it was. “Wrong address.” * * * One evening Eric is looking out of Zach’s slow-moving Hyundai at some trailer homes. But Zach insisted they visit before calling it a night. Were all three running at once it’s a safe bet this dry wooden structure would go up in flames.
SAF estimates there are roughly 150,000 farmworkers in North Carolina, the majority of them undocumented, and two to three million nationally (other estimates put the number closer to one million).
Eric calls his parents and says he’ll be working for the Migrant Education Program (MEP) in Columbia, a two-hour drive from the College of Charleston, where he’ll be a senior this fall.
In contrast to Eric’s slim frame, Zach Taylor has the upper body of a weightlifter.
With his Anglo skin and crew-cut hair, farmworkers used to mistake him for a cop. When he was fifteen, his father, an English teacher, moved the family from a small town in Maryland to Costa Rica, where Zach developed a fluency for Spanish and Latin American culture. Were they only here to grind a political axe or make a statement about social justice?
Police would be called and radio stations would broadcast Amber Alerts.
Eric is pretty sure those things won’t happen here.
Authorized by Congress in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s Great Society program, the MEP provides educational services — from supplemental classes to private tutoring — to migrant children who struggle to keep up as they move from one school to another. * * * Eric is assigned to the Lowcountry District of the South Carolina MEP.