It was 1984. Someone, I don't remember who, suggested I go over to this farm in Spillcorn to photograph some Mexican farmworkers picking tomatoes. That there were even Latinos in the county was news to me so I went. Spillcorn, back then, was about as remote as you could get in Madison County and the creek I followed was stereotypically Appalachian, littered with junked cars, appliances and all manner of plastic. I turned off the main road and forded the creek into a little holler, which opened to a beautiful, contained cove. At the lower end was a field of ripening tomatoes.
At the edge of the field was a lone woman, squatting over an open fire warming beans, meat and corn tortillas for the workers. There was a tape player blasting mariachi music to the hills. The men, six or eight of them, were picking the tomatoes into five gallon mud buckets, which they then transferred to shipping crates.
I had picked tomatoes for my neighbor McKinley for a couple of summers and I knew what the men were dealing with. Hot, the tomatoes wet with dew and coated with chemical residue. You stayed stooped over, each bucker heavier than the last. It was work I was glad to no longer be doing.
Since that time I've had the good fortune to meet many Latino workers across our state who do jobs that are scorned by Americans - hanging sheetrock, building fence, cutting and hanging tobacco, picking the food we eat. My experience with these people as workers, neighbors, and photography subjects has been only positive.
The fear and hysteria surrounding this group of kind, hard-working, family-oriented people are totally misplaced. They are not our enemies. They are not here to harm us. Rather, if we are looking to place blame, or find a cause for our fear, we should look to the politicians and their supporters who seek to turn us against one another.
We often hear we are a nation of immigrants and with the exception of our Native American citizens, it's true. My family migrated from Italy and Germany, my wife's from the British Isles. All were seeking freedom from oppression or poverty in a place that promised a new life. And they found it here. We should let others find it, too.