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Beet Train: 1943

Beet Train: 1943

May 1943. More Mexican sugar-beet pickers headed north. "Mexican workers recruited and brought to the Arkansas valley, Colorado, Nebraska and Minnesota by the FSA to harvest sugar beets." View full size. Office of War Information.


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Happy, Yes --- But...

...I see all sorts of emotions and attitudes in this train car packed with hard-working men, all in the prime of life. (Be sure to "View full size," because there's a lot to see here.)

The magnificent smile on the older man in the lower left corner somehow reminds me of my father, though the two have no resemblance other than a palpable love of life.

By contrast, the younger man in the right front corner looks wistful and distant. Perhaps he's thinking of the young wife and infant he left behind in some dusty village to come north and follow the harvest ... missing his family as though his heart was torn.

My gaze comes back again and again to the man in the bib overalls at slightly left of center, with his arms and legs crossed, gazing straight into the lens. His is a frank look of...what? Defiance for the photographer who stole this moment on a crowded train 55 years ago, and disdain for the invasion of his scrap of privacy? Boredom? Fatigue? Annoyance at a nap interrupted? We can never know, of course ... but that's not a smile.

The seventh man from the front on the right looks frightened, though he may simply have been startled by the flash. The seventeenth man from the front on the right --- sitting on the aisle much of the way back, in a light-colored checked shirt, hatless, his handsome face impassive, could almost be Emilio Zapata (though he'd need a much thicker moustache). He has enough dignity and bearing for the entire car.

I'm a hard-rock Republican and a firm opponent of illegal immigration --- and only illegal immigration. That said, all of these men look like they'd make good neighbors --- and some of their descendants may well be just that.

A favorite of mine is the earnest-looking gent at farthest right in the foreground, with an honest, closed mouth-grin, a thin, perfectly groomed moustache, an impeccable white shirt beneath his jacket and what appears to be a fisherman's cap, seldom seen in the beet fields. I've seen that face in old newsreels and Ellis Island photos a thousand times. His smile makes me smile.

God bless them all, here or in the hereafter!

Shiny Happy People

Sure are a cheerful bunch. Must be thinking about the good things to come.

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