Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cotton Pickers

I was driving through the San Joaquin Valley as I often do and saw a few bands of people picking cotton.  I thought about what they were doing in the context of the long history of cotton cultivation and harvesting which started around 5000 years BC.

I also thought about how African-Americans were forced to work the cotton fields during slavery, and how the phrase, “cotton-pickin’” had a negative connotation to it.  The economy of the Southern United States had a heavy interest in cotton for many years, and its history is still engrained in families and culture in those areas.

Have you ever stopped at the side of the road next to a cotton field and actually looked at a cotton plant?  It’s really fragile-looking and it’s hard to imagine how just that itty bitty bit of cotton could be gathered together with lots of other bits of cotton to make huge bins of it.

I’ve also seen those large cotton-picking machines (I don’t mean that negatively of course).  I suppose that they are much rougher on the cotton, but that they can scoop up an amount of cotton in a minute that might take a worker an hour to do.

But as I watched the probably overworked and underpaid migrant Latino and Latina farm-workers picking the cotton by hand, it looked to be such a peaceful and gentle scene.  Just groups of workers slowly making their way through the cotton plants with baskets on a sunny day.  It would have made for a good painting.