Big yellow school buses have been frequenting the rural roads lately.
It’s that time of the year: detasseling season.
I never took part in this rural rite of passage, but I do remember my brother and I roguing on several occasions. I sported a straw hat, a tube worth of sunscreen, boots, old jeans and work gloves. Even so, I remember taking off my gloves at the end of the day and still having large seeping blisters.
We went down the rows of beans, armed with dull, rusty corn knives, beating the living daylight out of stubborn buttonweed and sunflowers – as the sweltering summer sun and flying soil beat the living daylights out of us.
When I was very young, sometimes farmers in our area would hire migrant workers to rogue – usually folks from Mexico. We referred them as – though not politically correct now, but socially acceptable then – “The Mexicans.” At the same time every year The Mexicans would arrive, usually with some fun gifts from Mexico. While they were in our area, they spent the summer living in a dilapidated old house, spending most of the day in the fields working.
Many summers ago one of the workers came to Mom and Dad’s house. I was the only one home, puttering around in the garden. We chatted in the yard for a bit, and eventually -- in broken English -- he asked where Dad was. “I’m not sure he will have work for you this summer,” I told the gentleman. He looked disappointed, and I explained the new technology: Roundup-ready soybeans. He looked quite impressed, until I told him that it meant they might not have as much work.
His face fell.
“I’ll let Dad know you were here.” We said our goodbyes, and that was the last time I saw The Mexicans.
As a little kid, I’d see the migrant workers toiling in the bean field south of our house. As I played outside I wondered what they talked about while they were doing their back-breaking work. I wondered what their lives in Mexico were like. I thought about walking down the rows and talking with them – maybe even learn a little Spanish in the process. I thought about asking if they had any kids I could play with.
I still think about them – always smiling, even through veils of sweat and soil. I learned a lot from The Mexicans; a lot about hard work, tenacity and maybe even about chasing the proverbial American Dream.
I also learned that people are people – not just Mexicans, not just Americans. We’re all human.