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The rest of the (farmer) story

Dodges Super Bowl ad featuring Paul Harveys ode to the farmer has generated a lot of talk right from its airing, and not just for the Americana-drenched production. Some have called out the ad for its portrayal of the farmers whom God on the eighth day made; the majority of them reflected the ads presumed demographic target, which also happens to make up the larger part of the football-watching audience.Who really works the farms? According to a fact sheet[.pdf] from the National Center for Farmworker Health, 72 percent of the farmworkers in this country are foreign-born and 68 percent are Mexican by birth; 22 percent are women.Should Dodge and its agency have taken pains to cut an ad reflecting the facts? The very aim of advertising is to conjure an alternative reality, where issues like immigration wont interfere with the prospective consumers contemplation of the possibilities: If the exhausted American ploughman can stop to splint the leg of the meadowlark, then why not have a new truck? The Atlantics Alexis Madrigal frames it well:

[A] Dodge ad isn't on the level of the government's deportation programs or the long-time cognitive dissonance of American immigration policies. But it's the kind of cultural substrate in which our laws and prejudices grow.

Harvey himself helped layer that substrate, with radio commentaries celebrating John Wayne, individualism, and the death penalty and warning of radicals, moral decay, and welfare cheatsimages and language readily harvested by politicians and culture warriors of lesser eloquence and bigger ambitions. So its interesting to see the turnabout engineered by immigration rights groups this week, with the release of slightly different versions of the Dodge ad. Paul Harveys voiceover is still there, but the farmers God needs to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant are Latinos and Latinas. More reflective, in other words, of the current reality. The ad from Latino rights group Cuentame can be viewed on its Facebook page; one from Isaac Cubillos appearsbelow.

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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Face it, many Americans "can't handle the truth" preferring to dwell on a romanticized version of what and who we are. There are those who weren't even alive during the 1940's and 50's yet yearn for what is portrayed as the 'simpler' times of those years; never minding the facts of men dying in two wars; children practicing bomb drills; and lest we forget, segregation and lynchings. This list barely touches the surface of what people want to believe about our country--Christopher Columbus anyone? No, they would much prefer the white-washed, sanitized history taught in our schools; used in advertizing and, of course, used by our politicians.

Great comment and great video, but I think the demography of farms needs to be furher clarifed. In the United States, "farmer" and "farmworker" are often used to refer to two different groups of people. The latter are usually those hired as wage laborers by the former. So when the fact sheet says that 72 % of farmworkers are foreign-born, I think this means 72 % of the agricultural wage laborers, not 72 % of everyone who lives or works on a farm. The USDA says that there are 1,053,000 farm workers (including full-time and part-time), not 3 million (the higher figure found in the fact sheet comes from a 1993 study, and the numbers have gone way down). The USDA says 46% are Hispanic and 44% foreign-born (if we exclude managers and include just laborers and supervisors the figures are 50% Hispanic and 48% foreign-born). In contrast, there are about 3,000,000 people classified as "farm operators," people who operate farms. They may do all the work themselves or part of the work themselves or hire and supervise farm workers. I have no idea what the percentages are. Farm operators own about 57% of their land and 96 % of them are white. So while none of this is meant to change the point of the video, which is that Hispanic farm workers were made invisible in the Paul Harvey ad, I am a bit confused about the demography of US farms, farm operators, and farm workers. I imagine that there are a fair number of farm operators who work very hard on their farms--but that is no excuse for leaving the Hispanic farm workers out of the picture. I'd love to hear from someone who knows more about this and has clearer data.

Growing up in Chicago, I used to listen to Paul Harvey with some frequency. By dad was enamored of him -- especially his conservatism. By then Harvey was just doing "The Rest of the Story." Even as a kid I knew I was being sold something by an expert salesman. But I admired his art. The man could tell a story, even if it wasn't always true:

The Cold War beginning of the Harvey-Hoover bond was an incident from 1951, when Harvey was 32. The son of a police officer from Tulsa, Harvey had already made a name for himself as a radio and TV commentator in Chicago, specializing in human-interest stories and strong opinions delivered in shirt-sleeve English. He routinely hammered officials for being lax on security, in particular those in charge of the Argonne National Laboratory, which conducted nuclear testing 20 miles west of Chicago.After wrapping up his television broadcast on the evening of Feb. 5, 1951, Harvey set out to prove his case -- and make some career-enhancing headlines for himself.Harvey guided his black Cadillac Fleetwood toward Argonne, arriving sometime past midnight. He parked in a secluded spot, tossed his overcoat onto the barbed wire topping a fence, then scampered over.Breaking the law in an act of participatory journalism, Harvey planned to scratch his signature on "objects that could not possibly have been brought to the site by someone else," according to a statement later given by an off-duty guard who accompanied him. The signature would stand as proof that Harvey had easily defeated the lab's security.But seconds after Harvey hit the ground, security officers spotted him, documents show. Harvey ran until, caught in a Jeep's headlights, he tripped and fell. As guards approached, Harvey sprang to his feet and waved.Guards asked whether Harvey realized he was in a restricted area. "Harvey replied no, that he thought he might be at the airport because of the red lights," one report says. Harvey told the authorities he had been headed to a neighboring town to give a speech when his car died.On the drive to the lab's security office, an FBI memo says, "every once in a while, Harvey would remark that his car was stalled out there and he would like to have a push."Under questioning, Harvey eventually dropped his cover story but refused to elaborate, saying he wanted to tell his tale before a congressional committee.Guards searched his Cadillac and found a nickel-plated .380-caliber Colt automatic. It belonged to a naval intelligence officer whom Harvey had brought along as a witness.The search also revealed a four-page, typewritten script for an upcoming broadcast. Harvey, it turned out, had planned from the outset to feed the nation a bogus account of his escapade: "I hereby affirm the following is a true and accurate account," the script began. "My friend and I were driving a once-familiar road, when the car stalled. . . . We started to walk. . . . We made no effort to conceal our presence. . . ."Suddenly I realized where I was. That I had entered, unchallenged, one of the United States' vital atomic research installations. . . . Quite by accident, understand, I had found myself inside the 'hot' area. . . . We could have carried a bomb in, or classified documents out."

I grew up in rural Wisconsin, definitely farm country. The few farmers who had someone other than immediate family working on their farms had "hired hands" or "hired help." These hired men (almost always men) were often related to the farmer in some manner ... brother-in-law, cousin, etc.They were mainly resident on the farms, ate with the family and were pretty much looked after by the farmer.The distinctions that exist today appear to be the result of larger farms (mainly corporation-owned) and non-resident, seasonal laborers.

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