Visiting Immokalee this year awakened a desire in me to champion the CIW movement. As my car tires skidded off of the interstate and onto the main thoroughfare in Immokalee, I felt as if I had entered a different Florida. Storefronts painted vibrant colors made me feel as if I had escaped the touristy soullessness rampant throughout Florida and landed in a beacon of community and heart. Tempting taquerias and bakeries filled with sweet breads lined the paved street. Once I realized that many of the sodas sold in the shops were in glass bottles, my heart skipped a beat. I bought an orange soda and gulped it up — savoring the way that the sugary liquid fizzed up against the thick glass rim of the bottle. Yet, I knew that this instant quick-love that I felt for Immokalee; my heart giddy with the excitement of discovering a new place; ignored the community’s aching poverty.
I attended a foot tour of Immokalee hosted by one of the CIW members. In the twenty or so minutes that the tour lasted, I realized that I had never before bore witness to such depravity. The workers live crowded in trailers with dirt floors and rickety bunk beds with no room for privacy or intimacy. This made me realize how plush my dorm is — filled with sentimental trinkets and objects that I love, it gives me a respite from the world when it overwhelms me. These workers do not have this and their working life is far more brutal and harsh than mine.
We walked past a home where a crew-leader had kept workers locked up in his shed — only allowing them to leave to labor in the fields. If the workers desired to bathe themselves, they had to pay their enslaver for a bucket of water. Our tour-guide told us that one of the workers who had been enslaved in this home had just walked by. This saddened me. This man who must have suffered so much trauma in this home must walk by it every day because he couldn’t leave Immokalee. (The CIW movement was instrumental in prosecuting this crew-leader and freeing the workers).
We walked through the parking lot where the workers compete for spots on a bus to get paid to work in the fields. The workers do not have job security and live in the uncertainty of whether or not they will make money for the day. In the parking lot, a man sold me vanilla and mango ice-cream from a cooler attached to his bicycle — he does this to supplement the wages that he makes in the tomato fields. The ice cream was fruity and chunks of ice in it made me less conscious of the heat steaming up from the asphalt under foot.
At a conference hosted by the CIW, one of the coalition members said, “An inhumanity to one is an inhumanity to all.” The mission of the CIW is not to encourage people to feel sympathetic to the workers or to give them charity, but to fight for their rights because they are deserving of humanity. Once we ignore the humanity of others, our very humanity becomes threatened. We ignore our purpose in the world and become entrapped in our own self-interest.
The CIW movement has been instrumental in making the lives of the workers in Immokalee more humane. It is a movement of the workers for their own rights. The CIW broadcasts a radio station through Immokalee that has a women’s hour and has been integral in the community as a mode of communication that the workers can trust. Their relations with the police force of Immokalee are strained and they have turned to the CIW’s broadcasts for guidance in moments of calamity such as when a hurricane tore through Immokalee. The CIW hosts weekly film nights and has a food store that sells basic items such as rice, cornmeal, juice and beans at affordable prices.
The CIW is a bright light — a beacon of community — in a town that exemplifies the danger of what happens when we become detached from our food sources and fail to admonish individuals who indulge in their greed at the cost of others. Day by day, this grassroots movement is changing the lives of the farmworkers and transforming the community.