Hunting for Migrant Workers

by Art Wolinsky

Introduction · Questions · Web Resources · The Big Question · Conclusion · Rubric · Guide


Many people claim that we live in an Information Age, where trying to learn amidst the explosion of facts and opinions is like sipping water from a fire hose. And the Internet seems to be the world's biggest fire hydrant. Still, just as we need water to survive, scholars need information to learn.

Unfortunately, there are many people in this nation who can't take advantage of the things you take for granted. Those things go far beyond Internet access. They deal with the basics of life and the opportunity to seek the American Dream.

Your task in this activity is to answer some key questions about migrant workers and the problems they face. As you do, keep in mind that the people you will be reading about can't do what you are doing, and that is the least of their problems. The Web offers interesting facts and opinions that may not be available anywhere else, but to find the truth you may have to read between the lines. If you want to use the information you gather, you will have to think about how you can turn the information into actions. If you want an idea of how your learning will be evaluated, read this evaluation rubric.htm>rubric. Finally, remember, this activity is about thinking and learning, not copying and pasting.


  1. Of the estimated 2.5 million migrant workers, about what percent live in substandard housing and why do they put up with the conditions?
  2. Give at least two possible reasons that growers are investing millions of dollars to develop picking machines the take the place of 20-30 workers.
  3. Describe the living conditions of many migrant workers who work in the Columbia Valley apple orchards of Washington state.
  4. What are some reasons California produces more than half of the country's fruits, nuts, and vegetables? What is the only crop more profitible than strawberries?
  5. Get out your calculator... What percent of this state's immigration population is illegal? List two states in which the illegal immigration is about 50% or greater.
  6. When did the plight of the migrant workers come to the attention of the American people and who exposed it?
  7. How many workers will be needed to bring in Washington's cherry harvest?
  8. Read the lyrics to this song segment. Can you guess the meaning of La Migra Viene? If you can't, here's a place that will give you a really poor translation, or you can read the words of the song as part of another question.

Web Resources Links

Fruit pickers' summer of squalor
State Immigration Facts
Americans now realize that the costs of our present high level of immigration (legal and illegal) are enormous and growing. Center for Immigration Studies estimated in 1995 that immigration costs us a net $29 billion a year. This site gives a state by state statistical look at migrant worker and immigration facts.
In Strawberry Fields
The rise of the strawberry industry in California was a boon to the fruit industry, but what was the cost in terms of migrant worker conditions?
Online News Hour
Transcript of a PBS report by Rod Minott of KCTS-Seattle, on the problems of housing migrant workers already in the U.S.
Migrant workers hold breath on move toward mechanization
Will new picking machines, each of which can do the work of 20-30 field hands, replace workers entirely or simply compensate for the present shortage of migrant labor? ...or are they a ploy to keep labor costs down?
As U.S. Economy Booms, Housing for Migrant Workers Worsens
Inside room 39 at the Westwind Motel was an astonishing scene: 10 people bedded down for the night. On the right, five migrant farm workers slept on two mattresses. Straight ahead, two were on blankets on the floor.
Lyrics to La Migra Viene
(Scroll down the page) Folksong writer Chuck Brodsky worked as a migrant worker in the apple orchards on the west coast and wrote a song about some of his experiences. Listen to clip #1. Can you guess what this song is about from these few words? If not, other questions here will help you.

The Big Question

Why is there so much conflict and why is it difficult to solve the problems faced by migrant workers?


People used to think that learning was all about gaining information and memorizing facts. We hope you've learned some important information in this Knowledge Hunt, but more than that, it would be great if you saw ways to use this knowledge to expand your understanding of the topic or to do something to help solve the problem you have just learned about. If you want to check how you've done, read the evaluation rubric.htm>rubric for this activity. Remember, with so much info exploding all around us, finding a nugget of knowledge is not as important as doing something with it. What will you do with your learning?

Web and Flow, by created by Art Wolinsky