" THEY ARE TEACHING MEXICANS HOW TO SPEAK ENGLISH. LET THAT SON OF A BITCH GO BACK TO MEXICO. " LINDEL TOUPS, LAFOURCHE PARISH, LA. COUNCIL MEMBER COMMENTING ON THE LOCAL LIBRARY.
Peckerwood populism and bigotry is alive and well down on the Bayou in Thibodaux, LA.Toups, quoted above, introduced ballot legislation that would divert about $800,000 a year from the local library to the Parish jail. It would cause the library to go broke in 3 years.
Teaching Latinos to speak English being criminalized in a area where 20% of the population speaks Acadian French ? And besides, not all Spanish speaking migrants to the US are Mexicans. You don't call a New Zealander American because he speaks English..
Toups anger was somewhat evenly distributed , " The junkies and food stamp (people), they use the library to look at food stamps and drugs. " he said. Sources Tri Parish Times and Los Angeles Times (11/14/2013).
According to a local magazine, Houma Today, the Parish rep has two relatives, his son and grandson, in the local jail. The charges are methamphetamine possesion and paraphenelia. Maybe they used the local library to further their criminal enterprize.
It would be easy to just assume that Toups is just a stereotypical carcature of backwoods, ill educated Cajun. After all, the ballot measure, was defeated by a vote of 54% to 46% in a late November election, gives pause for worry.
But 46% voted for a measure that is pretty insane. Could you sleep well at night knowing 46% of your neighbors would defund the library to fund the jail that the bill's sponsor had relatives in ?
That 46% probably is a not so Silent Minority that fears so called Mexicans. Never mind that they might come from other South American countries. In the eyes of many Americans, all Latinos are Mexicans.
So what are Mexicans and other Latinos doing in Bayou Country that has riled passions ? Labor in the sugar cane industry .
" We can't find local workers to do the work, so we have to turn to H2A labor." said a Sugar cane farmer in a July 2013 LSU Ag Center article on sugar cane production and labor.
H2A labor is legal, permitted labor allowed into the country from overseas. Immigration advocates have been saying for years that migrants often do the work Americans won't do. Sugar cane farmers apparently agree.
Today, sugar cane is $370 billion industry.
"First came the Sugar Cane, then came Thibodaux. Cane sugar built this town, cane sugar paved the roads. " Mary Gauthier from a song Sugar Cane .
Sugar farming began in the early 1700s with French settlers. These settlers often raided local Native American tribes for slave labor. By 1750, this practice was banned but in its place came African American slavery. Planters grew rich off the cane and the sweat of unpaid labor.
After the Civil war ended slavery, the freedman still worked the fields. In 1887, the class struggle between sugar cane labor and the planters spilled out in open warfare. This became known as the Thibodaux Massacre. In a strike, white Klansmen struck violently and viciously at the striking African Americans.
In what is considered the worst labor massacre in American history, it is estimated that up to 300 African Americans were killed.
Apparently, labor problems still plagued the industry well into the 20th century. Back breaking hand labor was still the norm.
"Prior to 1940, a great deal of labor was available for sugar cane production in The article stated that it took 40-70 man hours to weed one acre of sugar cane.
It also appears labor problems were still in the fields at harvest time. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported that thousands of sugar cane workers struck in the 1953 season. (Oct 12,1953). They were organized by the National Agricultural Workers" Union.
However, with the use of pesticides and increased productivity through technology, sugar cane, like most agriculture, has become far less labor intensive.
The increase in technology and chemicals has produced ecological worries.
Singer, song writer, lesbian activist Mary Gauthier grew up in Thibodaux. she penned a song that hauntingly recalls the burning of sugar cane byproducts in the fields.
"From Thibodaux to Raceland, all the way up the Bayou LaFourche to Iberville, dirty air, dirty laundry, dirty money,dirty rain; A dirty dark at daybreak, burning sugar cane." Mary Gauthier from Sugar Cane.
To its credit, according to Gauthier on her website, the burning process has been improved since her childhood in the 1960s and 1970 when burning cane produced noxious fumes on the Bayou.
When one considers the harshness of the labor, the exposure to pesticides, the not so great pay, one would think Lindel Toups, LaFourche Parish councilman, and the 46% who voted for his bill would roll out a red carpet for the migrant farm workers. They make a great contribution to the local economy.But even in the mythological land of the laid back, playful, life loving French-English speaking Cajun, there is a ingredient of racism and bigotry flavoring the gumbo.