Without immigrants, those with legal status and those without, the State of California would shut down.
Recently I was driving through the lush San Joaquin Valley of central California listening to a local talk radio station which was berating immigrants, regurgitating the ill-informed rhetoric that has become so popular in the recent election campaigns. As I passed endless miles of dormant orchards and vineyards, open fields awaiting Spring planting, my eye caught sight of a group of men pruning peach trees.
I found an exit from the highway and doubled back to get a closer look. These young peach trees were just beginning to sprout pink and red buds, so the men were working quickly to complete the entire orchard.
Their pruning these trees is not a simple task. It requires both science and art, and next season's peach harvest depends on these farm workers having a special eye to prune the right branch. I was fascinated to watch once again these professionals at work. One worker explained that this coming season's peaches will form on the new small branches from last year. Pruning the wrong ones means no peaches.
These are immigrants--some may or may not have legal status.
While these farm workers were busy at this orchard, thousands more were spread across this fertile Valley pruning grape vines and many other fruit trees so that you and I can enjoy fresh fruit, table grapes, and fine wines in the coming months.
I asked these workers if non-Hispanics ever work along side them, and they looked at me amazed. They said that even in the midst of the Great Recession they never saw anyone approach the farmers looking for work doing these difficult tasks.
These immigrants are essential to California's agricultural business, one of the prominent elements of the state's economy. California leads the nation in the production of fruits, vegetables, wines and nuts. The state's most valuable crops are nuts, grapes, cotton, flowers, and oranges. California produces the major share of U.S. domestic wine. Dairy products contribute the single largest share of farm income.
Without our immigrant brothers and sisters, agricultural would quickly vanish as the great economic engine it is.
In California immigrants are the employee engine not only of agriculture, but also of tourism, hotel and motel employees, restaurant chefs and staff, clothing manufacturing, landscape installation and maintenance, all phases of construction work, car washing and detailing, and countless other segments of production and service.
Of this group of farm workers I met one who had just finished high school. He was helping his father prune trees because they must be pruned before the buds emerged. There was a rhythmical urgency to their work, and he told me they had hundreds more acres to prune. He said that soon he was going to go to Fresno State University and major in agriculture so that he could be part of the management and science side of farming.
This brief stop on the way home was a vivid reminder to me of the essential value of our immigrant brothers and sisters to all of us across the country.
As I continued my journey south, I prayed a special Rosary for these farm workers and their families--invoking the assistance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, San Juan Diego, and St. Joseph the Worker.
The next time I enjoy a peach, I'll wonder which tree it came from.