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Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Modern Times welcomes local author Seth Holmes for a reading and discussion of his new book, “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States”
This book is an ethnographic witness to the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants. Based on five years of research in the field (including berry-picking and traveling with migrants back and forth from Oaxaca up the West Coast), Holmes, an anthropologist and MD in the mold of Paul Farmer and Didier Fassin, uncovers how market forces, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racism undermine health and health care. Holmes’ material is visceral and powerful—for instance, he trekked with his informants illegally through the desert border into Arizona, where they were apprehended and jailed by the Border Patrol. After he was released from jail (and his companions were deported back to Mexico), Holmes interviewed Border Patrol agents, local residents, and armed vigilantes in the borderlands. He lived with indigenous Mexican families in the mountains of Oaxaca and in farm labor camps in the United States, planted and harvested corn, picked strawberries, accompanied sick workers to clinics and hospitals, participated in healing rituals, and mourned at funerals for friends. The result is a “thick description” that conveys the full measure of struggle, suffering, and resilience of these farmworkers.
Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies weds the theoretical analysis of the anthropologist with the intimacy of the journalist to provide a compelling examination of structural and symbolic violence, medicalization, and the clinical gaze as they affect the experiences and perceptions of a vertical slice of indigenous Mexican migrant farmworkers, farm owners, doctors, and nurses. This reflexive, embodied anthropology deepens our theoretical understanding of the ways in which socially structured suffering comes to be perceived as normal and natural in society and in health care, especially through imputations of ethnic body difference. In the vehement debates on immigration reform and health reform, this book provides the necessary stories of real people and insights into our food system and health care system for us to move forward to fair policies and solutions.
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“In Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies, Seth Holmes offers up an important and captivating new ethnography, linking the structural violence inherent in the migrant labor system in the United States to the social processes by which it becomes normalized. Drawing on five years of fieldwork among the Triqui people from Oaxaca, Mexico, Holmes investigates local understandings of suffering and illness, casting into relief stereotypes and prejudices that he ties to the transnational labor that puts cheap food on American tables. Throughout this compelling volume, Holmes considers ways of engaging migrant farm workers and allies that might help disrupt exploitation that reaches across national boundaries and can too often be hidden away. This book is a gripping read not only for cultural and medical anthropologists, immigration and ethnic studies students, students of labor and agriculture, physicians and public health professionals, but also anyone interested in the lives and well-being of the people providing them cheap, fresh fruit.”—Paul Farmer, Co-founder of Partners In Health and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“Here in the U.S., we both utterly rely on immigrants from the South to feed us, and erect walls and employ militias to keep them out. In this groundbreaking new book, Holmes goes underground to explore what this bizarre duality means for the people who live it. A brilliant combination of academic rigor and journalistic daring.”—Tom Philpott, Food and Agriculture Correspondent, Mother Jones Magazine
“Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies is a powerful exposé of the social and political realities that mark the bodies and limit the life prospects of Mexican migrant farmworkers in the world’s richest economy. An absorbing read and a resolute call for just labor relations and health equity as key to a common and sustainable human development.”— João Biehl, author of Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment