'Forgetting' Farmworkers: Transnational Experiences of Black Jamaicans 'Retired' from Canada's Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program
Thomas, Edward H
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This dissertation is an inquiry into the lives of Jamaican farmworkers who have left Canadas farmwork program. The thesis explores the workers past farmwork experiences and their present realities at home, to better inform our understanding of farmwork operations that result in oblivescence, a process of forgetting. Drawing on interviews with former Jamaican farmworkers and other key stakeholders, I argue that the experience of Black Jamaican men, deemed to have now retired from the program, is influenced by forgetting, which emerges as a linchpin that structures the program and facilitates its reproduction. I repurpose the idea of forgetting to underpin the examination of farmworkers lives and socio-institutional structures and to inform the multipronged conceptual framework guiding this research. The systemic oblivescence is articulated from two main dimensions: one emerged through the states administrative maneuvers I characterize as forgetting states and the other from Jamaican men, rendering them forgetting masculinities. Half the empirical chapters explore the states dimension of forgetting demonstrated in practices/policies infused by racist/neoliberal ideologies that construct migrant workers vulnerabilities and normalize their exploitation. The other half magnify forgetting as agency that the men employed as survival mechanisms in response to the structures the states press upon them. Both dimensions of forgetting reinforce each other to create catastrophic consequences during their employment but especially when they retire. I evidence the material impact of the compounded consequences of forgetting relative to their health, the denial or restriction of pension benefits, and show how spatial mobility and forgetting mediate masculine performance. That migrant farmworkers vanish from the program, therefore, is not accidental but orchestrated systematically via a process of forgetting that legitimizes their exploitation through policies enacted to extend the oppression into their so-called retirement. Yet, as a function of work, this thesis underscores the illusion of Jamaican farmworkers retirement, which remains a contradictory part of their life course.