Human Trafficking: A Play on Labor Exploitation in the Agricultural Sector
By: Izzy Ullmann
Overseer: What are you doing in bed, you lazy shit? Get to work. You think this is preschool– you can just take a little nappie? This is the real world. Get on it.
Boy: I’m sorry, sir, but I am very sick. I have been barfing all night and am extremely nauseous… I think I just need the day to sleep it off.
Overseer: Day to sleep it off? Who do you think you are? The queen of England? Get out of bed. I’m not asking.
Boy: Sir, I don’t mean to contradict you, but I really don’t think I can work today. I can barely stand to go to the bathroom.
Overseer: Well it’s your call. Either you work today, or you don’t work at all. If I don’t see you out in the fields in five minutes, don’t even think about coming to them again. (stomps out)
Boy: (aside) I’ve been working on this tomato plantation for a year and a half now. When I was twelve, I was working out on a tobacco plantation in Cuba. My parents had sent me to work there, practically selling me off to the owner, because they thought I would have a better life working for him then living the life of poverty I had grown up with. On the contrary, my life on the plantation was grueling– I worked to the point of fatigue every day and then spent the nights cleaning his house and feeding his children. When this guy came to the farm one day, offering me a job on a tomato plantation in Florida, I grabbed at it. He said he’d pay me more than I was being paid (which really wasn’t saying much, cuz I only got paid a few cents every few months on the tobacco plantation). I needed money. I needed an escape. So I went with him. But then he made all of these false promises:
Trafficker: You’ll have to give me your passport so that I can arrange for your travels. I’ll give it back to you as soon as we get to the US.
Boy: (aside) Well, I gave him my passport. It’s been a year and a half. I still haven’t gotten back my passport. Once we got to the US, I realized I was indebted to him
Trafficker: Ok boy… I paid for your transportation, your travel documents, everything… you owe me a couple thousand. So you’re going to have to work off that amount for the first few months. Once you work off your debt, you’ll start getting paid.
Boy: (aside) But it hasn’t worked that way. While I was working off my debt, it grew instead of shrank! Everything I do costs me money that I don’t have. He’s made me live in the “migrant housing” camp, a cramped, dirty, roach- infested poor excuse for a thing… but even that ain’t free. Shit, nothing’s free! I take a shower and the money for the water is added to my tab. I eat a meal and that’s added too. Every time I need clothing or supplies or whatever, I am charged for it… There is this never-ending list of money I owe and I can’t work fast enough to keep up with it.
So what my overseer is doing today, making threats about firing me… all the time. Whenever I do anything against his wishes, he just tells me I can stop coming to work. But I can’t do that man! I’m still in debt. So today, I drag myself out of bed, my stomach sloshing and groaning. It’s my only option. Either this or it’s on the streets for me.
Overseer: Someone decided to wake up! Now grab that plow and start using it.
Boy: (aside) I work and work. I work for hours. I barf through it all, completely unable to keep it down. At one point, I sit down after a particularly violent hurl. Bent in half, I touch my head to the ground, trying to stop the spinning. My overseer comes up behind me and kicks me in the ass. He then pulls me aside.
Overseer: You think you can stop on the job? You have such nerve you little prick. You think my time is worthless. You think this is some game. We have a business to run boy. Every second you spend wasting my time, is one less dollar in my pocket.
Boy: (aside) And then he rapes me. Right there in the field. I howl but no one comes running. I bleed right onto that tomato field, and no one mops it up. And you can guess what he does next. He sends me right back to work. And I have no choice but to plow that damn field.
When it’s finally dinner time, I stand in line with the other boys, completely starved. I’ve been denied a lunch break as punishment for my “tardiness” and can hardly stand up due to the hunger.
Overseer: (scanning boys) (spots Boy and grabs him by his collar) Boy, you are going to be working tonight. The outhouse needs cleaning. And since you’ve been so disobedient today, you won’t get paid for it.
Boy: Um sir… Yes, Sir.
Boy (aside): I consider protesting. I really do. But what’s the point anymore? Getting paid overtime? What does that mean when you’re not really getting paid at all? When it comes down to it, I’ve just got to suck it up and work with what I’ve got. Without a passport, a single penny in my pocket, or any family within a 200 mile radius, I am quite literally stranded. So I hold onto a plow and my tears, trying to let neither of them falter.