At a workshop last night discussing race and parenting, we were on the topic of slavery and one woman said that slavery still exists in America if you look at farming. We spoke a little about migrant farming and the poor conditions in which immigrants labor and one man pointed out that it is these workers’ choice to do this work. He said that most likely the migrant farm laborer had chosen to leave his more than likely meagre existence in his homeland to come to the United States and had chosen to work on a farm to better his condition.
I went to sleep last night and woke this morning thinking about choice and how our life unfolds according to our decisions. After I adopted my son, a friend and I were discussing Tin’s adoption story and how the fairytale I was telling him would evolve into the real story developmentally appropriate to his years. She said it is important for him to understand that his birthmother made poor choices. That never sat well with me because when I think of his birthmother and her lack of options, I found it hard to narrate a story where my son’s birthmother was a product of poor choices because there were many other factors – her own mother’s choices, society’s choices, as well as the birthfather’s choices of her three and counting children. All along, she had choice but lots of other people’s choices affected her too, which inevitably affected my son.
I was speaking this morning to a dear friend who has done diversity training in California for decades – having worked closely with Lee Mun Wah and on her own. She said the immigrant who left his homeland and came here to better himself indeed was a product of his choices. Everyone has a choice. The man had no work at home and he made a choice to come to the U.S. to find work and perhaps found limited options because he lacked an education. He made a choice to take a farm laborer’s job; it was not the only job he could get but the only one he thought he could get and so he made a choice to take it.
However, farmers have choices as well. The farmer makes a choice to have a farm and to employ migrant workers. The farmer makes a choice in how he treats his workers and values them. He makes a choice to either be aware (or not) of his privilege in society. It’s okay to have a farm and to have people work with you because running a farm is a large undertaking, but the farmer made a choice to have people work for him. He could have included the workers in the grand project, but he made a choice to alienate them instead of feeling fortunate to have them there with him creating the bounty that is a farm.
And we as a society are learning about our choices – we make a choice to buy from companies who treat their employees unfairly.
Yes, choice is a factor in every one of our decisions and teaching children and about choice is a big deal. I remind Tin as I give him options: you chose this one. I reiterate his choice in much of what he does when it comes to hitting another child and hurting them, when it comes to listening to directions or not, when it comes to losing a privilege or having a consequence, these are his choices.
I have a choice to do these workshops and I do them because they teach me.
I’m grateful today for the gift the man last night gave me – a chance to muse once again about how choice affects our life. How choice affects my son’s life. How choice affects my life. Every day, we make a choice about what we think, say and do, and we are all a product of those choices.