Friday, June 29, 2018


David Bacon Fotografias y Historias
Photoessay by David Bacon
Civil Eats, 6/28/18

Next to a highway outside of Oxnard, California, I saw workers in a field near the ocean, cutting, packing, and loading cabbage. Their style of harvesting reminded me of the old lettuce crews of the 1960s and 70s, who worked in groups of three called trios-two men cutting and one man packing. This crew didn't have that trio formation, but they clearly worked at a speed they set for themselves, just as the lechugueros once did. That's not so common anymore. Most vegetable harvesters now work behind or in front of a big packing machine pulled through the field by a tractor. The machine sets the pace of the work. Not so here.

The crew moved down the field in a kind of collective rhythm. First came the cutters. Each reached for a cabbage head with one hand, and with the knife in the other, cleanly sliced the stem holding it to the soil. After trimming off dead or wilted leaves, the cutter placed each head next to the edge of the row for the packers who followed behind. Each of the packer's hands grabbed a cabbage and, holding the pair against each other, turned them and slid them into place in the box. And because a box has to be there, ready and waiting, other workers grabbed them from the truck, unfolded them, and tossed them into place as they ran ahead.

This crew, working for Pablo's Produce, was packing cabbage into plastic crates. A single man followed far behind the packers, stretching plastic film over the harvested heads. Finally came the loaders. On each side of a flatbed truck a worker lifted a full, heavy crate of a dozen or more heads to his chest. Hoisting it to shoulder height, he handed the box off to his partner high above, who lifted and tossed it into place in the growing stack, before turning for the next one.

Growing up, I used to think of cabbage as food from Irish and German tenements. Talking about the smell of boiled cabbage was a way people many times described the smell of poverty. Later, Salvadoran foundry strikers in San Francisco's Mission District introduced me to curtido, the combination of cabbage, carrots, and onions heaped on pupusas. Whether from Europe or the Americas, the idea that cabbage is the food of the poor and of immigrants is ingrained. According to the "Bourgeois of Paris," the anonymous journals of a 15th-century resident of Paris, in 1420 "the poor people ate no bread, nothing but cabbages and turnips and such dishes, without any bread or salt."

Cabbage cultivation began 3,000 years ago, by the Celts of Central and Western Europe. In Istanbul, Sultan Selim III wrote an ode to the cabbage at the height of the Ottoman empire in the late 1700s. The tight-leafed vegetable traveled across the Atlantic with artichokes and Brussels sprouts, and soon was grown and eaten by the original inhabitants here as well. Some communities claim to have discovered that, like menudo, eating cabbage even cures hangovers.

Whether or not they were thinking much about that history on that day in Oxnard, the men in the field (and it was only men) were very serious. Often, when I go into a field to take photographs, workers joke around. I do, too. Here they joked a little, too, but they didn't stop to do it, intent on keeping up their fast pace down the field.

I didn't ask how they were being paid, but my bet would be the piece rate, giving them a reason to work quickly. Even their jokes were about how fast they were, how they had what it takes to work bent over double, hours at a time, day after day, year in and year out. The loaders, doing the heaviest job in the field, really had that machismo. One, seeing me with the camera, struck a bodybuilding pose you might see in the gym.

However we eat it, and for whatever reason - kimchee, coleslaw, stuffed cabbage, or the strange British dish of bubble and squeak - all come out of this field and others like it. It can seem a far distance from the hands of the packer, or the exhaled grunt of the loader, to the pale, gelatinous leaves on the dinner plate. But we are connected - from the labor of these workers to our own appetite and hunger.


Jose throws boxes into the row, working ahead of the packers.

Refugio Lopez cuts cabbages.


Trimming the leaves after the head is cut.

The foreman watches as Avram cuts cabbages.

Loaders lift 45 pound boxes of cabbages up onto the bed of a truck in the field.

One loader jokes about how strong you have to be to do this work.

A worker packs cabbage heads into a box, holding two at a time.

A worker puts boxes together and throws them into the row.

Workers packing cabbage heads coordinate with each other to work quickly.

A worker puts plastic over the boxes of cut cabbage.

Los Angeles Times reviews In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte - clickhere

"Documenting the Farm Worker Rebellion"
"The Radical Resistance to Immigration Enforcement"
Havens Center lectures, University of Wisconsin, click here

San Francisco Commonweallth Club presentation by David Bacon and Jose Padilla, clickhere


Exhibition / Exhibicion
In the Fields of the North /
En los Campos del Norte

Photographs and text panels by David Bacon
documenting the lives of farm workers
Fotografias y paneles de texto por David Bacon
documentando las vidas de los que trabajan en el campo

Arbuckle Gallery / Pacific Hotel
History Park of San Jose, 1650 Senter Rd., San Jose, CA

Video of the presentation at the opening of the exhibition, click here


In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte
Photographs and text by David Bacon
University of California Press / Colegio de la Frontera Norte

302 photographs, 450pp, 9”x9”
paperback, $34.95
order the book on the UC Press website:
use source code  16M4197  at checkoutreceive a 30% discount

En Mexico se puede pedir el libro en el sitio de COLEF:

En los campos del Norte documenta la vida de trabajadores agrícolas en Estados Unidos -
Entrevista con el Instituto Nacional de la Antropologia y Historia

Entrevista en la television de UNAM

David Bacon comparte su mirada del trabajo agrícola de migrantes mexicanos en el Museo Archivo de la Fotografia

Trabajo agrícola, migración y resistencia cultural: el mosaico de los “Campos del Norte”
Entrevista de David Bacon por Iván Gutiérrez / A los 4 Vientos

"Los fotógrafos tomamos partido"
Entrevista por Melina Balcázar Moreno - Laberinto


EN LOS CAMPOS DEL NORTE:  Farm worker photographs on the U.S./Mexico border wall
Entrevista sobre la exhibicion con Alfonso Caraveo (Español) REALITY CHECK - David Bacon blog

Cat Brooks interview on KPFA about In the Fields of the North  - Advance the time to 33:15

Book TV: A presentation of the ideas in The Right to Stay Home at the CUNY Graduate Center

Die Kunst der Grenze für "eine andere Welt"

Die Apfel-Pflücker aus dem Yakima-Tal

Other Books by David Bacon

The Right to Stay Home:  How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration  (Beacon Press, 2013)
Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants  (Beacon Press, 2008)
Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008

Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)

The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)

En Español:

EL DERECHO A QUEDARSE EN CASA  (Critica - Planeta de Libros)


For more articles and images, see and