A Migrant Worker’s Crate

“A Migrant Worker’s Crate,” a mixed-media installation, group exhibition “Slippery Terms,” at the AHVA Gallery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, 2015

Installation

Every year over 300,000 international migrant workers travel to Canada to work on Canadian farms. Many workers will spend most of their lives working within the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program in Canada. These workers live under the radar, as many Canadians are unaware of the impact that migrant workers have on the Canadian economy. The products that migrant workers produce do not reflect their work, since the fruits of their labor are labeled as “Made in Canada” although the workers themselves are brought in from foreign countries to give their skill and time.

The benefits of the program allow for temporary workers to gain a higher income than they would be able to in their home country. However, this comes at a cost. The separation which workers face from their families, their loved ones, and their homes takes a heavy toll. All of the work they do and the earnings are sent back to their families, but because they are in Canada, the workers hardly see their families. Every season, the workers build and fill wooden crates full of food items, toys, clothing and other essentials to ship back to their families. They are also filled with individual hopes, dreams and love. The crates are a symbol of the struggle for individual identity within the confines of globalization. The crate, with many crates exactly like it, can be made unique by placing individual objects within it. Therefore, each worker cannot be labeled as a generic tool of globalization. By placing their personal belongings into the crate the workers retain their individual autonomy in a global system that treats them as tools rather than individuals.

As well, workers are constantly moved throughout Canada depending on agricultural seasons. Crates are shipped in a similar manner, moving throughout the country where they are needed. The crates carry the belongings of each migrant worker just as each migrant worker carries the emotional hardships of constant movement. Although the crates are merely objects, the migrant workers carry much more than mere belongings and take the baggage of being far from home wherever they go. The memories of their families travel throughout Canada as migrant workers shift from one place to another.

Gu Xiong
2015

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