As we head into a long Independence Day weekend, most Americans are anticipating a Friday off from work and a time to spend with their families celebrating the largest secular holiday in the United States. However, as American citizens celebrate their nation through fireworks, parades, and picnics, many would consider the topic of immigration to be “anti-American” during such a patriotic holiday. Yet immigrants and their contributions to the American economy are important to consider as we honor democratic values such as hard work, devotion to family, perseverance and loyalty, qualities which our immigrant brothers and sisters share.
Roughly 750,000 immigrants live in North Carolina as our neighbors, entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers. A recent study from UNC-Chapel Hill found that North Carolina’s immigrant population has a positive impact on the state’s economy, with immigrants contributing $23,371 on a per-capita basis. One economic sector in which immigrants remain invisible is in our food production. North Carolina has one of the largest farmworker populations in the nation; however, even though more than 85% of our fruits and vegetables are harvested by hand, few people ever consider the hands that pick our food. Farmworkers are often immigrants who leave their families to spend long hours with few breaks toiling in the fields or factories, performing repetitive tasks, bent over, often in extreme weather, with no paid holidays or sick days. For their hard work farmworkers receive very little pay, often less than $12,000 a year.
Immigrants in North Carolina work hard to provide for their families and to make the state a more prosperous and fruitful place to live for all North Carolinians. This Independence Day, as you barbecue your chicken or cut up cucumbers for your salad, consider the farmworkers who harvested your food. Those workers did not get to stop and take a holiday. As we celebrate the 4th of July with hot dogs, hamburgers, and apple pie, take time to reflect on your own personal family history of immigration to America or take time to read the stories of others. For on our nation’s birthday, we have the opportunity to celebrate the uniquely American characteristics of determination, hope, and vision, shared by citizens and non-citizens, which ensure the continued prosperity of North Carolina’s diverse population.