Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Work Americans Won't Do

As the fight over the latest attempt at coming up with new immigration legislation continues, we continue to hear every so often in the press that it's important to bring immigrants in to do "work Americans won't do".

Without question, immigrants (legal and illegal) do backbreaking and poorly paid work throughout this country. (Though the book has its flaws, Mexifornia by Victor Davis Hanson talks about the work and life of illegal immigrant agricultural workers in California from the point of view of someone who's worked beside them in 110 degree vineyards wafting with dust and pesticides.)

However, the phrase "work Americans won't do" has always bothered me. Perhaps the more accurate phrase would be "work Americans won't do if they can afford to palm it off on someone else without paying too much, and thus avoid any incentive to make the work more efficient and less manual."

Partly because of my annoyance with the phrase, and partly because of some lingering "a man's land is his own responsibility" idealism, I've never been able to stomach the idea of hiring a "yard guy". So every other weekend or so finds me and/or MrsDarwin out sweating in the yard.

A year or so ago, this meant I spent a hot May afternoon digging persistent holly roots out of our front yard (in what had been an area of shrubbery and was about to become the rose bed). If you haven't dug out holly before, you must understand that it really does belong in the company of ivy (as in the old carol), because like ivy is it nearly impossible to dig out or exterminate. The roots go down deep and they criss-cross all over with no seeming pattern -- and even the slightest bit that remains in the ground will send up sprouts for years.

I was pounding away with a short-handled mattock when one of a group of teenagers slouching by shouts in my general direction, "Stupid wetback! What ya doin?"

Now, I'm half-Mexican in ancestry, but no one ever guesses it. My hair isn't that dark, and although I take a tan if I get around to going outside enough, I'm not really olive at all. But apparently if I'm wearing workboots, jeans and a white t-shirt and covered in sweat and dirt while working in the yard -- it is actually possible for people to recognize my Mexican background. Perhaps I was even doing some of that famous work that Americans won't do.

So I'm sticking with doing my own yard work.


Patrick said...

You're a better man than me. I think I would probably have "spoken" to the teenager and given him a little enlightenment about proper behavior.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I always forget part of your ancestry is Mexican. You look like a gringo to me. Plus, your accent is hardly patterned after Cheech Marin.

Foxfier said...

Right up there with folks who call my mom a "lezbo" because she has short hair and works for a living.... (classic ranch woman, which means she can boot animals over a fence if they threaten her babies, be they animal or human.)

Anonymous said...

The phrase "work Americans won't do" has always grated me also. My paternal Grandmother earned money for her large family by cleaning other peoples homes. Both my parents, God rest their souls, were factory workers, at least my mother was until her plant moved south to Mexico. I grew up in Central Illinois doing agricultural labor for hire as did many of my contemporaries. Then I graduated to washing dishes and scrubbing floors at a Country Club.
With a BA and a JD that type of work is behind me now, but sometimes I think I learned more from those early jobs than I did from most of the classes I took in College or Law School. I still do all of my lawn work, with the unwilling help of my teenage sons, although I like it no better than the agricultural work I did three decades ago. My Scottish heritage forbids me to pay someone for work I, or my kids, can do.

As for the teenage louts, a powerful hose can be useful in such circumstances.

Avenging Sword said...

The Marine Corps has given me an interesting perspective on the concept of "work Americans won't do". On the one hand, I'm as American as they come, but I didn't find this a handicap when digging ditches, cleaning barracks, or performing other manual labor. On the other hand, when I was in Iraq, I discovered that yes, you _can_ convince Americans to do work you wouldn't think they'd be willing to do, if only you pay them enough. Many of the civilians working for KBR, which performed many of the support functions at the base where I was stationed, were American citizens. They hadn't been drafted to work in a combat zone; they'd come of their own free will, drawn by the high pay that such work offered. If you can convince American civilians to work in a combat zone using high pay, would it really be all that difficult to do the same here at home?

So when someone trots out the canard "work Americans won't do", I don't find it terribly impressive.