Our first day in Immokalee! After a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, we headed out on the road to tour a local worker housing complex. The first thing I noticed as we exit the car was the ubiquitous crowing that has come to characterize Immokalee. That and the heat, which I am thankful for after a long Pittsburgh winter wished us farewell with four inches of snow.
The houses at Immokalee Housing and Family Services were tan and nestled in the midst of sporadic trees and bushes. It was very sunny and that gave the houses a warm glow. We took selfies.
The director came and we all met Miguel and Zazooki, the two groundsmen. We helped them by picking up trash and tidying up the place. The people were so nice, and we played with a kid named Carlos…or Rocco. He would tell you a different name depending on which language you asked him in.
Lunch was pbj sandwiches and fruit, accompanied with pretzel sticks. We sat in the parking lot and enjoyed each others company while we ate. We are all bonding so well. Next was a quick stop back to the Amigos Church and then we walked over to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers headquarters.
The Coalition is such a cool place. It is filled with young people, energy, and nice contrast colors. They spoke to us about the Coalition’s history and its mission. Part of understanding their life was lifting a 32 pound bucket full of fruit that the farmworkers have to throw into trucks dozens of times a day.
We also went on a walking tour of the workers’ housing. Walking through their streets was like walking through a documentary on another developing country. It was hard to believe it was America, well, the America I knew. The America I know is suburban, and white, and dominated by what you have and what kinds of the things that you have. You can’t really get anywhere without a car, and it is a stark and a refreshing difference to see so many people walking around and biking around.
(To those who were reading this, when was the last time you walked to a destination that was miles away?) We see so many people walking around pushing strollers. We see double the amount of men and boys on bikes. They are pedaling everywhere. The sidewalks are some of the best I have ever seen though. They are in such good quality though they are well used.
People do not walk around at my home. There is a main-road, and there are cars that congest it. No one walks around. People have legs, but they don’t use them for transportation; why would they when they have cars? They use legs for exercise. It just makes me wonder and ponder the fact that people will train for marathons but they drive cars to go everywhere else. I guess the easy answer would be that it is more practical, but it is looking at it makes me think.
Even more striking was the modern day slavery house. We walked by the house where people were chained and and beaten and imprisoned. This was in 2008. Not 1908. Not 1808. Just seven years ago. Thank God that it was ended and those responsible were prosecuted.
Going to a farmer’s market was a great experience too. It was very refreshing to get fruit from a stand in a market, to see a smiling farmer chop a coconut and then hand you a straw for you to drink. If Wal-Mart comes into town, yes, it may give hundreds of jobs, but it will also eliminate that farmers market. Maybe it won’t completely eradicate it, but it will certainly grab much of its business. America was built on farmers markets, not Wal-Marts.
Guadalupe Social Services and Catholic Church is a “Mecca of the community.” Learning about Father Sanders and his impact of his work was extraordinary. Trisha Yeggey was a fantastic tour guide. She showed us how they can flex their muscles in the community and help so much. They provide food to hundreds and hundreds of people per week. Their work is hard. The don’t get a big bonus at the end of the year, or some sort of material compensation. Their spirit of charity is indomitable. Go them. People talk about how they could never wake up in the morning for ROTC and PT like I do, but man, what I do is easy. What Guadalupe Social Services does is truly much, much harder.
I can’t wait for another day of learning in Immokalee.