Half as Much Is Sometimes Twice as Good

Being taught respect, honor and working hard in the fields at a young age, were perhaps some of the best times of our lives, because we learned what integrity, and keeping your word meant.
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To Pick or Not to Pick, it was never really a choice anyhow!

About a month ago, on its opening day, with only seven people in the theatre, I watched a movie called McFarland, starring Kevin Costner. It was based on a true story about high school kids who joined a cross-country running team and who, against all odds, ended up winning a championship. This sparked what became an unprecedented run of championship wins, for a high school that was made up of predominantly minority kids, who were the children of immigrant field workers, and came from low income families.

To be specific, this was a movie about underprivileged Hispanic kids (who are called "pickers" in the movie), from a small farming town. These kids had to work in the early hours of the morning, before school, picking vegetables, then attend school during the day, and thereafter go right back to picking in the evening. These kids spent much of their time running from place to place in "real life" in order to maintain this grueling schedule, which catches the eye of their new coach and gives him the idea that these kids might have what it takes to be good cross-country runners.

Kevin Costner, aka coach Jim White or "Blanco", as he is called by the students, tries at first to have the kids tryout for the football team, because at his previous job, he was a football coach, before a series of incidents saw him get fired due to anger management issues. He then has to work at a school in a poor, predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, due to the fact that it is the only place that would hire him.

At first glance there were seemingly obvious stereotypes in the movie of the coach being named "White" and most of the student last names being "Diaz". But as I came to learn after coming home and googling more about the story, those were in fact the real names of these dedicated individuals, and the movie told a much more important story of the unprecedented, and historic run of championships.

You see, I myself was a "picker", and am the son of immigrant field workers. I grew up in a small farming community in Canada, and that was what we were referred to as also, during the summers ("pickers"), while picking berries in Abbotsford, British Columbia (the Raspberry capital of Canada).

At one point in the movie, coach Jim White says to his team "you guys are superhuman" and I remember thinking, I've worked long hard days in the farm, under the scorching hot sun, since I could remember during the summers, but the kids from McFarland were truly superhuman, because they had to do it all year long, day in, day out!

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have negotiated an agreement with my parents, that if they wanted me to work in the farm all year, then I was going to drop out of school, and do just that, full time! So in the end we agreed that only during the summers would I have to work in the fields, and during the year I was off limits to the "child labour camp" as us kids aka "pickers" referred to it sometimes!

It's true, growing up, we used to use terms like "child labour camp" and "slave labour camp", not to insult, or be insensitive to those kids who were actually enslaved, and suffered through such indignities, but as a way to cope with what we could not seem to get away from, no matter how hard we tried.

You see we were like any other kids, and wanted to go to Disneyland during the summers, and have fun summer vacations, but our position in the economic system here in the first world did not allow for such things then. We definitely did not want to have to wake up at the brink of dawn, and go into the fields and work 15 hour days during the summers, that is for sure!

We did what we could to stay sane during those years growing up. We all worked hard during the summer, and even harder during the school year, and dreamt about, and looked forward to the day we would complete our formal education, work office jobs, and become part of the white collar economic machine.

We truly believed growing up, that this machine would take care of us, and that our families would not need to have to endure the grueling heat and labour away in the fields anymore. Most of our parents kept reminding us, (during those long, hot, seemingly never ending, scorching hot 90+ degree days), that an education was the only way out of the fields, and that they had given up their homeland so we could have a better life. You best believe we were the happiest kids to go back to school after the torture of summer was over!

Us first world kids used terms like slave etc. as youngsters not even realizing that there were in fact kids our age in the world then, (and still now), who were still slaves. We thought slavery was a thing of the past, as the newspapers and movies led us to believe back then. You see this was a time way back when, where the internet and google had yet to be created and uninformed ignorance ran rampant! Now we know that there are more slaves today than ever before. In fact, it is estimated that there are 27 million people living in slavery today, more than double the total taken from West Africa during the slave trade!

Now being older and having gone through plenty of adversity since those early formative years of my life, I realize that had I not grown up that way, there was no way I was going to get through what God had planned for me next, after my picking days were over. I was lucky that my family could survive without needing me to work during the year, unlike the kids in McFarland. To me, those kids are true heroes, who went to work in the morning, got an education during the day, trained in the evenings, and eventually won championships! Thus proving that an iron will and tough times, can sometimes enrich your life beyond belief, in ways you never imagined!

During a crucial part of the movie, coach White says to his runners, to motivate them to push harder in order to win, that "it is up to you, and you can do it, because they haven't been through what you've been through." He tells his runners in another poignant scene, which I'll remember forever, -- "I used to teach kids to toughen up and then I met you kids."

Coach White gets taught a valuable lesson himself, when he goes to work with the kids. He does this after the parents of these star athletes explain to him, that while they understand he is trying to help their kids out, that the time he spends training them, was time that could be spent earning a living for the family. Hearing this, coach White decides to help the kids and their families finish their work faster, in order to give the kids more time to train, while still fulfilling their household responsibilities.

I now sometimes truly do feel for those people, who have only known a life of privilege, and struggle of this kind has not ever really come near them, in their formative years, or ever. As I meet some of these individuals as adults, sometimes with "white collars" on, it is apparent that they don't realize the value of a dollar, and hard work. While the majority of white collar professionals I have met are indeed good hard working people, and have endured their own journeys to get where they are, what we have now seen with the economic collapse in the world, is that there are some of those with immense power that do not understand the havoc they wreak on innocent hard working people, or maybe they do?

All one has to do is look at the current state of affairs in the world's economic system, to realize that perhaps certain individuals don't know, or simply don't care how hard some people have worked over a lifetime, to build up that nest egg, that some pension fund manager or "rogue trader" just squanders in the stock market. Or the real pain it causes when the sub-prime market just swallows a lifetime's worth of earnings in a heartbeat that is the ticker tape on Wall Street.

Maybe these "Bulls" and "Bears" should spend some time "picking" for real, and then come back to their desk and "stock pick." Perhaps their decisions might be a bit different eh, (yes this word "eh" marks me as a Canadian to be sure!).

White collar fraud, and the legal system's failure to prosecute white collar criminals impacts society much more than some guy stealing a few hundred dollars from a 7-11, and being thrown in jail for it. Not that the latter is right either. Sometimes in the system today, one single solitary judge with a stroke of a pen destroys an entire generation's hard work.

Much of society today seems to be trying to strive for an opulent life, or is being brainwashed into thinking they should work towards a consumer lifestyle. And that is the main focus it seems of the world at large. We've all been brainwashed into thinking if we can afford that next expensive gadget, then our lives will be better, and that we should do whatever it takes to pay for it.

While making things easier on yourself and your family, by earning a few more shekels, is not a bad idea, just make sure you don't sell your soul trying to do it.

I'm not suggesting that wealth itself is the problem, or striving to better your circumstances is wrong, I'm just suggesting that perhaps, the children of the immigrants have it twice as good when they become adults, rather than what we were told growing up, that we were "underprivileged". I say that maybe we were doubly privileged, having experienced some hard times growing up, and having the benefit of living in a first world country where there is more opportunity to rise up and better your circumstances. Or so we were told.

Being taught respect, honor and working hard in the fields at a young age, were perhaps some of the best times of our lives, because we learned what integrity, and keeping your word meant. You see in the fields and growing up the way we did, if you gave someone your word, you kept it, or died trying. Unlike in the world today sometimes, when corrupt bankers, shuffle paper, and lawyers and judges sometimes make a mockery out of it all, by ignoring common sense, and the fundamental principles of fairness and justice for the common people.

The corporatocracy has done much damage to the world, that is for sure. Maybe it will be the children of the immigrants who can also help fix the world's economic system, because we truly do understand what it takes to make a dollar, and how much it hurts when the CEOs and Executives of corporations, or judges with a simple stroke of a pen, alter our existence. You see before we ever put on our fancy suits and ties, we trained in those very fields, and learned the fundamental principles of hard work, fairness, freedom and justice.

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