In recognition of Dan’s presenting sponsorship of the Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game on August 21, we are giving local writers a free rein to write whatever they want in this space for the summer.
“So, I’ve Written This Book…”
As the author of four books, readers often ask what motivates me to write. Echoing the sentiment of the great Maya Angelou who once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you,” I am driven by an insatiable desire to create literary work which flows undeterred through my conscience until it is published. This is my motivation, but with my latest book a greater purpose emerged which I could never have foreseen.
To be sure, the need to capture the grim history detailed in my new book Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood was unavoidable. It covers the calamitous migratory labor system that gave rise to hundreds of slum-like labor camps that dominated much of Long Island, less than 100 miles from New York City, for more than half a century. The book fully chronicles the dramatic effects upon the inhabitants of those camps, most of whom were Black farmworkers from U.S. southern states, during what is known as “The Great Migration,” who faced abuse, economic exploitation and were forced to reside in rundown shacks that were occasionally ravished by deadly fires which left the charred bodies of men, women and children. It also features the heroic efforts of several outspoken critics who protested the deplorable conditions of these camps and fought to improve the lot of migrant workers on Long Island.
So, I’ve written this book and it is by far my most important work to date. When I began this journey, I didn’t realize that this history was never written about in any comprehensive way and even worse, it was nearly lost forever. This frustrated me because it occurred in a region renowned for the preservation of its history, including information on the arrival of the first settlers, the advent of the railroad, deadly hurricanes, and even the estimated age of giant oak trees! This enigma begs the question: how can a history, which adversely affected so many people for so long, have never been meaningfully written about before?
Presumably, since this is a dark part of New York’s agricultural history, those in power deemed it best left untold. Or worse, perhaps no one else cared or had the wherewithal to commit to such an important task. The precise reason may never be known, but the absence of any substantial literary coverage on the history of the Long Island labor camps had a profound effect on me. I clearly felt the forces of history urging me along, and it gave rise to a moral and professional obligation that I could not ignore.
After all, if we lack the resolve to preserve history, then it truly disappears, leaving an irreplaceable void within us all. I was determined to not let that happen. That, together with the important subject matter, forged the indomitable motivation for me to complete this project.
So, I’ve written this book, but it has turned out to be much more. It is the resurrection of a history that was very nearly lost to the annals of time. Today it is a part of the permanent historical record of New York, and I cannot fathom a more worthy endeavor to be a part of.
Mark Torres, a North Fork resident, is the author of Long Island Migrant Labor Camps: Dust for Blood. He has also authored two fictional crime novels: A Stirring in the North Fork and Adeline, along with a labor union-related children’s book, Good Guy Jake. Mark is a labor attorney who represents thousands of individuals and families throughout the Greater New York area. He has a law degree from Fordham Law School and a bachelor’s degree in history from New York University. marktorresauthor.com