Saturday, April 29, 2006


Yesterday, my sister-in-law left me a breathless voicemail: "Elle, call as soon as you get this."

Oh, how I hate those types of messages. Unless someone died, just tell me what you want when you leave a message so I can already have my answer or response half-formed when I call you back! So, I reluctantly called her back.

"There's been an INS raid at your plant," she told me. "I knew you'd want to know ASAP."

"My plant" is the poultry processing facility around which my dissertation revolves. My first reaction was pure historian--"Get all the details you can. Go buy all the papers for me tomorrow." She was getting her information second hand from my brother, a "line leader" at the plant. I hung up and thought about e-mailing my advisor or my group to tell them.

Then, I began to think that maybe I was being a little too analytical, a little too excited about a situation that was more than likely causing people untold fear and distress. I called my sister-in-law back.
"What exactly is going on?" I asked.

From her reply, I gathered there hadn't actually been a raid, but the threat of one that had been circulating since Monday. Something happened Friday--I have yet to know what--that made the danger seem imminent. What followed amazed the community and the plant. People from off the street walked past the plant's guard gate, into the facility, up to the lines and grabbed their family and friends. My brother reported that people began taking off all their protective gear--the aprons, jackets, gloves, whatever--throwing it down, and exiting the plant. In the end, not enough people remained to run the lines. The employees there stood around, shocked, waiting for word from the management about what to do next. I do not know what happened to the people who walked out, to the day's production, to anything, as I haven't talked to my brother since yesterday.

But here is why I entitled my post Politics. The Latino/a presence in the area has been increasing phenomenally for quite some time now. Way back when I still lived there and was teaching middle school, the school boards were ill-equipped to handle the new students. They simply placed them in age appropriate classrooms and instructed us to do our best. For our whole parish, there was one woman, ONE, who came around to each of the schools to meet with the Spanish-speaking parents and address the needs of their children. She and I had gone to the same school at the same time for our MAs, so we knew each other. She was overwhelmed and the parish was so poor (and the citizenry so determined that "we" were not going to be like other places and cater to "them") that there was no talk of hiring more people in her position, bilingual teachers, or anyone else--even though we all realized that this was not a temporary situation. Six years later, not much has changed and I honestly don't know how well ESL children are learning there.

Yet, despite the fact that this is not new, that we all know the Spanish-speaking families who come to the area are largely coming for the poultry processing work, never have I heard of the threat of a raid. In fact, the plant has been hiring Latino/a workers in ever-increasing numbers. When I interviewed the head of personnel 3 years ago, he estimated that 95% of the line workers were black and 3-4% were Latino/a, but--since industry turnover can approach 100% per year--apparently that 3-4% has grown into a much larger percentage, enough to effectively shut the plant down on Friday. The plant management has been blissfully exploiting this group of employees (as it did/does its other line workers) with little worry or interference. Then suddenly, the INS expresses interest in the plant.

Interest that just happens to come in the present political climate.

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Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...