Author visits Joliet high schools to discuss migrant workers
By Frank Vaisvilas Correspondent September 10, 2013 9:47PM
Gabriel Thompson, author of "Working in the Shadows," talks with Joliet High School students on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, about his book that all students had to read during the summer. | Frank Vaisvilas~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 12, 2013 6:36AM
JOLIET — Some Joliet high school students might not enjoy having required reading over the summer, but at least they had the opportunity to meet the author when they returned to school.
Gabriel Thompson, author of “Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs (Most) Americans Won’t Do,” visited with students at both the central and west campuses of Joliet Township High School District 204 on Tuesday and was scheduled for other stops on Wednesday.
Thompson answered questions Tuesday from the students about his book and signed copies for some.
“I was extremely excited,” Thompson said when he was invited to speak about his book with students in Joliet.
This is the second year an author whose book was read during the summer visited the schools.
Last year’s visiting author was Darin Strauss, author of, “Half a Life.”
But students have had required summer reading for four years.
“Just like athletes need to keep exercising to keep fit, we all need to keep our brains going,” said Mark Eleveld, who teaches English at the west campus.
The purpose of the summer reading program is to keep students learning and help avoid the summer brain drain.
Eleveld said parents are also encouraged to read the book during the summer, as well as all school faculty including custodians.
He said the goal is to create a discussion about the book in the entire community.
Eleveld said Thompson’s subject matter about the plight of migrant workers was particularly controversial and could lead to some interesting discussions.
“It was a timely topic,” Eleveld said.
As part of the research for his book, Thompson posed as someone looking for work at a lettuce farm and a chicken farm in the South so he could gain access to observe worker conditions and interview migrant workers.
One student asked him if the companies performed background searches because it wouldn’t be too difficult to discover he was a journalist.
He said many of the jobs had high turnover and didn’t suspect they paid for background checks.
“They don’t do that sort of diligence,” Thompson said.
He explained working in the chicken factory was particularly depressing because of the way the employees were treated in harsh working conditions, not only for undocumented workers but also U.S. citizens.
But while the immigrant felt a sense of trying to make life better for their children, some of the citizens felt a sense of hopelessness after realizing they’d be stuck in their jobs.
Eleveld said he hopes students appreciate the amount of work Thompson put in researching for the book.
“I thought the book was real interesting,” said Kyle Kopchuk, a junior at the west campus. “It gives the immigrants’ side and it’s very personal.”