Every day, many ethnic groups suffer discrimination in the workplace. Whether the workplace be outside, such as the Mexican fieldworkers in Holme’s book “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies” or inside such as the Puerto Ricans in Holme’s article “ Poverty at Work: Office Employment and the Crack Alternative,” minorities in the United States suffer from the differences in economic structure. Not only is there inequality present in the workplace for certain ethnic groups, but people who associate with the “other” groups are often viewed in a negative light as well, as detailed in Gmelch’s article, “Nice Girls Don’t Talk to Rastas.” On a global scale, to try and equalize the economic structure across countries, governments such as the one in Japan have given vastly to other countries, but not entirely for free, as discussed in Cronk’s article “Reciprocity and the Power of Giving.”

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Even though there are clearly differences between the way Mexican workers, Puerto Rican workers, and white workers get treated in the United States; the differences can affect these workers’ possibility for economic advancement. In the case of Johanna, the American student, who became friends with a Rasta, her image was tarnished within the community for associating with “the other,” which is very similar to the way in which Puerto Rican and Mexican workers get treated within the workplace in the United States. In Holme’s book “ Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies,” Holmes focuses a great deal on indigenous fieldworkers who pick fruit. Holmes notes that the Mexican fieldworkers are treated badly and are forced to meet a daily quota with no break and long work hours. In addition, since they don’t have money to afford their own place to stay, the Mexican picking crew must live “ in the camp farthest from farm headquarters, which has no heat or insulation and no wood under the tin roof.” If they don’t meet the quota, they are kicked out of the camp. When Holmes tried the fieldwork, he found that it “ honestly felt like pure torture,” which was the opposite of how the white pickers felt like who had said that “it’s not that bad, really” (72,74).

The distinct difference between the way indigenous workers get treated versus white workers was clear to Holmes as he found that white workers didn’t suffer as much as the indigenous workers who were called dogs, and dumb donkeys. In addition, indigenous workers had to deal with pay cuts “without warning or opportunity for negotiation.” When Holmes interviewed an indigenous worker, he said:“they don’t pay fairly… if a person has 34 pounds of strawberries, 4 pounds are stolen because the [white] checker marks only 30. That is what bothers people most… that is why the people can’t move ahead” (76). Receiving unfair pay, physical and mental abuse leaves these hard workers at “ the bottom of the ethnic-labor hierarchy with back and knee pains to slipped vertebral disks, from type 2 diabetes to premature births and developmental malformations.” Therefore, the farm policies serve to keep the “ethnic hierarchies” in check at all time so the indigenous Mexican workers stay in the same economic level with no possibility of moving up.

This form of institutionalized racism the Mexican fieldworkers experience is found within the walls of offices in New York, but this time is felt by Puerto Ricans. In Bourgois’ article “Poverty at Work: Office Employment and the Crack Alternative,” he explains how many Puerto Rican and African-American residents living in New York “ eke out an uneasy subsistence in entry-level service and manufacturing jobs in one of the most expensive cities in the world” where they are treated badly by racist bosses (125). Instead of slaving away at a low paying job where possibilities of moving up are limited, due to their social demeanor, many young Puerto Ricans choose to sell drugs because of the high profits to be made and so they won’t be disrespected by entry-level work bosses. For example, a once Puerto Rican office work Primo, said that he felt humiliated when his white, female boss called him “illiterate” and thought this was funny when he looked up the word in the dictionary, since he was supposed to be unable to read. Instead of feeling respected in the entry –level service workplace, Puerto Rican feel ridiculed which goes against the traditional Puerto Rican “concept of respect in mediating labor relations”which states “the good owner respects the laborer” for the good of the landowner (129).

Similar to the way in which Primo’s female boss belittled him in the workplace, Gmelch’s article “Nice Girls Don’t Talk to Rastas” shows the “naïve realism” between genders in a racial sense (31). According to Gmelch, naïve realism is a person’s “failure to understand social class and their assumption that others see the world the same way they do” (32). Gmelch uses the example of an anthropology student,named Johanna, who went to Jamaica to do research and had a bad experience from many villagers, because of her friendship with “Rastafarians.” In Barbados, Rastafarians are looked down upon by many in the community. When American students, such as Johanna, have gone abroad to study, Gmelch’s wife noted that “such liaisons upset the students’ homestay families and damaged the students’ reputations and rapport [because] often the men involved had been considered disreputable characters who were beneath the social status of the host families” (32).

In a way, this is similar to the way in which Primo’s boss viewed his Puerto Rican accent and demeanor as less than desirable, and also how the white pickers believe they are better than the Mexican pickers. Instead of Johanna feeling welcome in Barbados, she was shunned because she chose to make friends with a Rasta. She notes how she “learned the power of a societal norm. Nice girls don’t talk to Rastas. Exceptions: none” (35). These clear lines in social and economic classes shows how people in different classes view others, and how their views greatly impact many others in a community view them.

This is also exemplified in gift giving across countries. For countries to appear generous to others shows their economic status more than altruism. In Cronk’s article “Reciprocity and the Power of Giving,” interpersonal relations and the way others view them are of prime importance for many governments such as the United States and Japan.Cronk notes how, “on a global scale, both the benevolent and aggressive dimensions of gift giving are at work in superpower diplomacy” (123). Just as Japan has given millions of dollars to foreign countries contingent upon those countries buying Japanese goods, the United States has used the act of giving, in many instances, for US advantage. This is similar to how the white picking bosses take advantage of the Mexican workers because they know, if they don’t listen to them, the crew bosses can just call to get them deported. If a country has this type of power to pull the plug on vital help for the country’s citizens, then there is no telling what maltreatment the giving country can impose on the “helped” country.

In conclusion, despite white supervisor’s thoughts on Puerto Rican and Mexican workers in the United States, these workers are vital to the existence of many American-owned businesses. Without hard-working fieldworkers, there would be no yummy fruits. Without entry-level office workers, CEO’s would have to do all their work themselves. It’s important for everyone to remember that, in the United States, there is an economic structure that is contingent upon all different variations of workers in many fields. By bosses appreciating their workers and giving back to them appropriately, not only will their workers perform better but also the companies will thrive and continue to exist for generations to come.

  • Spradley, James. McCurdy, David W. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. Pearson, 2012. Print.
  • Holmes, Seth M. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies. University of California Press, Ltd, 2013. Print.