Bernice Wong’s thesis, In Equality: Migration, Labor, and Our Modern Global Economy, explores our relationship and role in the interconnected systems that allow some to prosper and others to suffer exploitation or enslavement. She traces the state of labor rights in today’s American agricultural industry back in time to the abolition of slavery in 1865, understanding that agriculture in the U.S. remains rooted in a system historically intended to control and repress the black body. Her design projects seek to intervene where there are structures of abuse, confronting the issues of immigration, exoticism, colonization, and race as intersected and inseparable.
Laura Germino, founding member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, explains that “for every case of outright slavery discovered and disclosed in the news, we can reasonably assume that thousands of others are working in degraded labor conditions, in situations that are regularly, fundamentally exploitative.” This incentivized Bernice to work toward changing the events that trigger or produce socially acceptable inequality, such as the devaluation of manual labor—and in turn manual laborers. To echo Professor Jennifer Gordon of the Fordham University School of Law, “criminalizing bad apples… is not likely to correct the situation. A structural problem requires a structural solution.”
Bernice spoke to a range of agricultural experts—from farm labourers to food policy leaders. She also learned from conversations with social workers, international development and aid workers, lawyers, medical trauma professionals, researchers, and educators, involved in and around migration and human rights.
r(ally) is a service that allows members of the public to “proxy-protest” on behalf of specific grievances that are collectively determined by the farmworker community. It helps to maintain and move public sentiment to public action through personal, evocative stories of injustice, all the while ensuring those stories are properly representative of the farmworker community’s perspective.
GRIT is an online community inspired by the Open Prosthetics Project. It is a forum open to farm workers, makers, and funders, where DIY farm hacks, for jobs big and small, are aggregated. Its goal is to crowdsource ways of incrementally improving working life on farms, with the hope of finding widely useful, mass manufacturable concepts that can be sold in accessible locations, where more and more people can find little ways to make their jobs easier.
Common Cents is an app that assists with aggregating of the savings of a group of immigrant workers such that they can send money overseas—to a single location—in a single transaction. This enables all participants to save on the costs of remittance: reframing and celebrating the experience of transferring money overseas.
Almost Free is a DIY ice cream pop-up shop where members of the public can engage both physically and mentally with the stories of struggle faced by immigrant farmworkers in the New York dairy industry. Participants are invited to simulate churning their own ice cream using old-fashioned hand-crank buckets while listening to recordings of immigrants telling stories about different aspects of their work, daily lives, and journeys.
Read more about Bernice Wong’s work at www.bernicejywong.com.