Social Ethnography By Seth Holmes: The Lives of Mexican Migrant Farmers

'Fresh Fruit Broken Bodies' By Seth Holmes explores how the mexican migrant farmer population suffer. Seth spends a year and a half living and working with migrant farm workers. His accounts are from the fieldwork that he reported through writing and interviews with his surroundings while on his journey. Through his time on different farms in Washington State, California, Oaxaca and the journey across the border into Arizona Seth observed how the migrant farmers, mainly the Triqui people from Oaxaca, endure negative consequence due to inequalities. These different social inequalities are due to political policies, symbolic violence, structural violence, and naturalization of inequality which are presented in the book.

The main arguments in the book provide an understanding on how suffering and illness of migrant farm workers are due to inequalities caused by structural violence. An argument that Seth mentions is the policy put in place in 1981 NAFTA, North American free trade policy, has caused many mexican farmers to immigrate to survive. Since the deregulation of certain exporting policies of goods it is no longer endurable for Triqui farmers to stay in their village to survive. They have to migrate through the border in Mexico to Arizona. Due to another Policy in place, prevention through deterrence, the migrators face harsh consequences in attempts for better lives. He argues that while it is viewed as them attempting to cross the border is a choice, rather in reality it is their only way to survive and be able to provide for their families back home.

Further Seth argues that symbolic violence is due to the organized hierarchy in the farms. These organized hierarchies are unequally formed, giving migrant workers unequal opportunities due to their illegal status, with the only option of being a low skilled laborer. This bias due to the ethnic differences and status cause people to think differently about one another and how they should treat one another. Which contributes to how the people in the hierarchy treat and think about the Triqui migrants.

Holmes is convincing at making these arguments as he supports them through his writing. Seth argues that the two policies, NAFTA and prevention through deterrence, set by the United States are the reason for structural violence and unequal narratives. Amy Reed-Sandoval exemplifies Seth’s argument speaking on how a mexican woman Alicia lost her husband while attempting to cross the US-Mexico border, concluding'. Alicia found herself unable to make ends meet for herself and her children, so she decided to undertake the perilous journey on foot to the United States'. Alicia’s life is a result of the policies set in place, if it weren't for the deterrence policy her husband would not have had to risk his life in attempting to cross the border. Further, if it was not for NAFTA, then Alicia’s husband would still be able to make an earning living in his hometown and not be forced to migrate for survival.

Furthermore, the symbolic violence towards the Triqui people is presented through first hand written accounts from the organized hierarchy in the farms. Seth describes how stereotypes are naturalized and that this naturalization of bias leads to the oppression of the Triqui migrants. According to another account by a mexican farmer in California, “Immigrants are made to feel belittled: that their place is working in the fields, not in the government offices or in management positions on a farm”.This goes to further support Seth’s argument on the ongrowing symbolic violence. The immigrant farmers already have to suffer for a chance of survival but also endure stagnant life with no opportunity for growth. This shows also how this organized hierarchy affect the health and suffering of Triqui farmers.

The author gathers his information through embodied ethnography. The fieldwork was gathered in the field over a journey lasting a year and a half. Seth research method is similar to the early model of classic ethnography, he lived and worked with migrant farm workers, recording through writing, his surroundings, interviews and conversations with different people. What differentiates Seth’s methodology from the classic model of ethnography is that he embodied the different forms of suffering and illness that he was reporting and he travelled to different farms. Unlike the classic model were there was still a eurocentric perspective, Seth reports his writing by accounting for cultural relativism. This gives a wider understanding of fieldwork which is very important in understanding the arguments he brings forward, since Seth mentions the unequal narratives present in the field.

Fresh Fruits, Broken Bodies was fairly easy to read. The way the book was written made it engaging. It offered the reader multiple insights on the social suffering of migrant workers, by interchanging his writing from first hand written reports of the field to his analysis later. The book is aimed specifically at the public at large, but it also directed at other fellow anthropologists.

Seth Holmes, through writing this book, states, 'I hope that my field research and writing will work toward ameliorating the social suffering inherent to migrant labor in North America'. The value of this book is to help people think about the produce they buy, and specifically where the produce comes from. Further, it aids in developing a deeper understanding of the social inequalities placed on migrant farmers and how it affects their life at large. It also works to create empathy towards the suffering of other people, and look into different ways that we can work together to fix the structure of the agriculture business, including the equal pay of migrant farmers.


  1. Minkoff-Zern, Laura-Anne. “Race, Immigration and the Agrarian Question: Farmworkers Becoming Farmers in the United States.” JOURNAL OF PEASANT STUDIES, vol. 45, no. 2, 2018, pp. 389–408. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/03066150.2017.1293661.
  2. Reed, Sandoval, Amy. “Locating the Injustice of Undocumented Migrant Oppression.” Journal of Social Philosophy, vol. 47, no. 4, Winter 2016, pp. 374–398. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/josp.12170.
  3. Holmes, Seth M. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. Univ. of California Press, 2014.
  4. Djerrahian, Gabriella, September 18 and 25, Week 3 and 4, Lecture Notes
29 April 2022
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