And I’m the middle child of seven kids. I have three older brothers, two younger brothers, and a sister. Well, we were a, what I would call a somewhat poor family. And my dad liked farming and agriculture so we moved around a little bit and did some farming. When I wasn’t working for dad I worked for neighborhood farmers. Mom and dad never had enough money. It seemed like every time they were turning around they were trying to find ways to either get more money because we never had enough food and the easiest way to get more money was to send us kids out working.

MUSIC CUE: 1500 Stories theme 


Welcome to 1500 Stories, a podcast about something Americans don’t like to talk about–economic class.  1500 Stories is an art and digital storytelling project about economic inequality in the United States.  My name is Jen Myhre and I founded 1500 Stories back in 2015.  I have a day job teaching sociology–or as I like to call it, delivering the bad news–at a community college in the Silicon Valley and when my day job ends my work as a visual artist,  documentarian and community organizer begins.  You might be wondering about where the name 1500 Stories comes from.  It comes from a visual data display I have nerded out on for over twenty years.  It is a poster created by economist Stephen J. Rose depicting roughly the bottom 90% of Americans in terms of income and wealth. Posters don’t make good podcast material but if you were to look at you would notice that most of the people cluster at the bottom and most of the wealth and income clusters at the top.  The poster only shows that bottom 90% because the top 10% can’t fit on the poster.  In 1997 when I first started teaching the poster in my Introduction to Sociology classes, the poster would need to have been 3 stories tall to capture the richest Americans.  By the time 2015 came around, the poster would need to have been 1500 stories tall to capture the richest Americans.  That’s five miles long!!  That phrase 1500 stories stuck with me and one day it hit me–STORIES!!  We need to tell our stories about economic class.  Since then, over 700 Americans, people living in very different economic situations, have opened up to the project about their lives.  These people share openly about things Americans avoid talking about–things like money, and debt, their economic struggles, their worries and their hopes for the future.  No matter where they fall on the economic ladder, everyone has a story.  

 In this episode of the 1500 Stories podcast, we continue to explore the myths and realities of farm work in the U.S.  The 1500 Stories podcast began with a mini-series of episodes focused on ideas about middleclassness in the U.S. but in a second mini-series we are zooming in a little bit to learn about rural life.  These episodes are trying to look behind Americans imaginings and stereotypes about rural life to see the realities underneath.  As we explored in the previous episode these imaginings and stereotypes have a fancy academic name–it’s called the agrarian myth and it is a throughline in American culture.  The agrarian myth is the idea that rural Americans are the realest, truest Americans–that they are the keeper of the most core American values.  The agrarian myth sees rural America as the primary site of the values of hard work, loyalty, religious faith, commitment to family and community, self-sufficiency and independence.   It associates rural life with family farms, crops and pastures. (Lichter and Brown).  It’s not that these values aren’t alive and well in rural America, much as they are in suburban and urban America, but the realities of rural life turn out to be a lot more complex than our stereotypes.  It turns out that the agrarian myth is just that–a myth, a powerful story we tell ourselves that shapes both how we see the nation and how we think about farm work.  This mini-series goes beneath the surface of that myth to share the more complex experiences of people who spent their formative years working on farms.  That brings us to John’s story.  John is 49 years old and lives in Wisconsin.  He is white and of Native American ancestry but says he views himself “as American and that’s it.”  His story of growing up in rural areas is one where all of the kids in the household had to pitch in to keep the family afloat.  Unlike Charmaine from the top of the last episode, who spoke fondly of milking the cows and driving the tractor as a child, John’s childhood memories are considerably less nostalgic.


I remember I was probably 4th grade when I started earning money for the family and it started out simple. First job I remember having, I went out and shoveled snow for, it seemed like, a lot of families. It was probably only four or five in town. And then it was summer time, it was mowing lawns. And then we moved out into the country and I started working for farmers. And the deal was that everything that we earned went back to the family so that they could buy food. My dad kind of looked at it as rent, covering room and board. That’s pretty much the way the money worked in our family right up until I got out of high school. It just, I don’t remember not working and I don’t remember not giving the money to mom and dad to help pay bills with a family of nine total, seven kids. Money was always an issue and I guess being, you know, one of the four oldest that was pretty much the way it worked for us. We always went out and worked and helped pay the way for the younger siblings.

We were poor. We had to grow most of our food and in the farming years we raised our own beef, chickens, and pork because we simply couldn’t afford to go to the store and get it. So I would say, that I never really knew what they made but I knew it wasn’t as much as a lot of the local, in town kids. There was a big difference between city kids and country kids. Most country kids had very similar lives as mine. With a lack of disposable resources. Simple little luxuries like going out to eat or traveling, those things that we take for granted today, mom and dad didn’t have money to do it. So, I can remember up and till I graduated mom and dad taking us out to eat not more than probably a half a dozen to a dozen times my whole life. And traveling usually involved going to a wedding or a funeral. So we didn’t really travel a whole lot. You know the concept of staying in a hotel was almost nonexistent. So, I would say we were poor. 


John’s childhood experiences of rural poverty are not unique.  As earlier episodes of the 1500 Stories podcast discussed, the class divide is primarily a rich-and-everyone-else divide.  Much as income and wealth concentration is present in the economy at large, so too in farming but even more severely.  It was, even by the late 1980s, the richest 4% of farms that accounted for half of all farming income, and federal farm subsidies disportionately went to these farms.  That disparity remains true in the 2000s.  Using the USDA’s own data on agricultural subsidies, sociologist Gwen Sharp pointed out that “subsidy payments are highly concentrated to the richest agricultural producers, with the top 20% of recipients getting the overwhelming majority of payments.”  Wealth concentration means that fewer farms are doing most of the production.  “William Heffernan and Mary Henrickson find that in beef-packing four firms slaughter 81 percent of the cattle, four firms process 61 percent of wheat and five grocers now control 40 percent of that market.” (Lobao & Meyer 2004).   Linda Lobao and Curtis W. Stofferahn point out that most farm production and most farming income is made by industrial farms.  These are not family or household farms. One of the reasons for the concentration of production in the hands of a few, Linda Lobao, points out is that large producers have the power to shape the market, and they have largely edged out family farms.   

And if rising economic inequality increases polarization and weakens social bonds generally, research shows that the large scale industrial farms do the same for the communities in which they reside (Lobao and Meyer).  Linda Lobao and Curtis Stofferahn looked at 51 different studies of the impact of industrial agriculture on local communities to see if that impact was positive or negative or neutral.  They looked at three different types of outcomes–economic conditions for the community, various aspects of community social fabric–things like stress and conflict and civic participation–and thirdly local environment conditions, like air and water quality or environmentally related health conditions.  These studies overwhelmingly found that industrial farming had negative outcomes on their local communities.  Industrial farming is associated with higher levels of income inequality and social conflict, lower levels of local governmental autonomy, and environmental degradation.  Communities neighboring industrial farming lose their middle class.  Yet, “the economic bases of about one-fifth of American counties depend on farming, according to USDA reports” (Lobao & Meyer 2004).

On the flip side, sociologists Daniel Lichter and David Brown argue that 20% of rural counties could be referred to as “ghettos,” a word we usually use in relation to urban areas.  What they mean by that is that 20% of rural counties in the U.S. are persistently poor–they have had poverty rates of over 20% for every decade since the 1970s.  And in general rural poverty is geographically isolated.  When areas of high poverty coincide with geographic isolation it often means, as rural sociologist Gwen Sharp reminds us, lack of access to social services, decent schools, and the types of social networks that provide job leads and recommendations.  This brings us back to John’s story.  Unlike my Little House on the Prairie inspired agrarian fantasies of close community ties and deep roots, John’s story is one of social isolation and lack of community and family support.


My dad was very old school, he had not graduated from high school and he got to maybe early high school and dropped out to work; which was not uncommon in the 50s and 60s. My mom had grown up in a poorer family where the parents, my grandparents, who were very poor right up until they passed, had asked her to drop out of school and work for the family, very much like my dad had dropped out. So education wasn’t a priority. When it came time for us to go to school, in particular high school, I think is when I really noticed it. My dad looked down on kids that went to college because he didn’t go to college. So there was no emphasis on anything other than completing your basic high school education and I remember early on when I went on to college, tech school and then to college, my dad had a lot of resentment towards me because it was maybe a regret on his part. But, basically I would say the issue he had was that he didn’t get to do it and so you’d think you’d be proud of someone succeeding but it was just something that he had never experienced and maybe he regretted it a little bit. 

We really didn’t have a lot of friends because we were pretty remote. So our growing up, up until high school age certainly was. We were remote, we didn’t have access to vehicles and transportation. If we wanted to play sports we had to find our own way. I remember at one point we had to walk the five miles in to football, baseball practice and if we wanted to get a ride home we had to beg somebody to get a ride home otherwise we had to walk home. And I remember walking home in the dark up Highway 27 from in-town Cadott, what was it four or five miles up the road, right up the main highway to get home. I thought it was such a surreal experience to get home and dad was sitting there watching TV and had eaten his supper. And he basically said “if you want it you can have but you’ve got to do it yourself.” So I didn’t really get a sense of community or fun until I hit high school, where I was able to get a driver’s license and drive to visit my friends and do things.  Because we lived out in the country and you either did stuff in the country, worked, which was pretty much most of my growing up. Or you got to the point where you drove yourself. So I worked predominately my entire educational period, elementary school all the way through high school with very little interaction with friends up until my senior year, I started spending time with friends and then it wasn’t long after graduation that I just moved out on my own and became my own person.

I really started working, like I said, fourth or fifth grade. Jobs were very part time some of them were seasonal. And then it turned into pretty much consistent full time when I was late middle school age, maybe ninth grade. I started working on a horse farm and worked every night after school and weekends and then moved outside of the home for a year, lived on a farm, and worked on the farm. Only coming back to mom and dad occasionally throughout the year and then mom and dad moved to another town, so I moved with them at that point. And, as soon as I was able to drive I pretty much went out and got a job because my dad, you know, having a minor or very small income despite his hard effort had pretty much said “if you want it you had to go get it.” Which meant you walked for it, you ran for it, you bought a car, you had to work to pay for it. I don’t remember anything easy about growing up but I would say the big lesson for me was that you had to earn what you got otherwise you didn’t get anything.


John obviously learned the value of hard work.  But his experiences are very different than than the rosy childhood memories Charmaine shared in the previous episode about farm work and different than my golden lit warm and fuzzy Little House on the Prairie images of rural life, featuring Ma and Pa snuggling up lovingly with their children after a hard day’s work or community barn raisings where everyone came together despite their disagreements to take care of each other.  Instead, John describes social isolation.  His childhood wasn’t one of play and shelter from the demands of adult life but instead of paid employment and passing that income along to his parents for room and board.  John also observed differences between the city kids and the country kids.  Alongside the agrarian myth, stories about those differences are another throughline in American pop culture as well.  In 1849, the Prairie Farmer magazine, according to historian Richard Hofstadter, scolded one of its contributors for praising the opportunities and appeals of city life, insisting that city life “crushes, enslaves, and ruins so many thousands of our young who are insensibly made the victims of dissipation, of reckless speculation, and of ultimate crime.”  So you might be surprised to learn that the narrative of cultural hostility between city folk and rural folk isn’t a result of the 2016 election or increasing political polarization.  Hofstadter’s 1956 article in American Heritage magazine is fascinating because of its relevancy to the culture wars today.   In the last five years, scholars have, if you will pardon the pun, made hay out of analyzing the rural-urban political divide in the U.S.  Sociologist Nina Eliasoph called it the “scorn wars” in 2017 after a spate of best-selling books about the rural-urban divide, books with titles like The Politics of Resentment, Hillbilly Elegy, and Strangers in their Own Land.  

But the scorn wars aren’t new.  It turns out they go WAY back in the U.S.  Trust the historians to help us put the present day into perspective.  Richard Hofstadter’s analysis back in 1956 highlights the stubbornness of the rural-urban cultural conflicts in the American imagination.  He documented how common agrarian mythmaking is in American culture. One of my favorite bits from the article is when Hofstadter described how politicians love to pose for portraits on farms.  He describes a painting from the 1830s of the then Governor of Pennsylvania sporting a silk vest yet standing by a plow at the end of a furrow. And President Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s posed for a series of photographs of him pretending to be haying in Vermont.  Just for funsies, I put the words “politician photograph tractor” into an internet search bar.  Up popped photographs of Richard Nixon on a tractor, George W. Bush on a tractor, Barack Obama on a tractor, and Donald Trump on a stage built right next to a John Deere tractor.  So I suppose Richard Hofstadter was onto something back in 1956. 😉

But throughout these two centuries in which the agrarian myth has held sway, it has also been at odds with the realities of farming for much of that time. Hofstadter pointed out the contradiction between how “the preachers, poets, philosophers, writers, and politicians” idealized American farm life for its simplicity and self-sufficiency and the fact that “The farmer himself, in most cases, was in fact inspired to make money, and such self sufficiency as he actually had was usually forced upon him by a lack of transportation or markets, or by the necessity to save cash to expand his operations.”  Farming, as Hofstadter pointed out back in 1956 in the early days of the massive commercial corporatization of agriculture, is a business.  Even by the mid 1800s when the Prairie Farmer was bemoaning the degradation of the cities, agriculture had already shifted away from self-sufficent farming to commercial farming.  Also, given how wrapped up the agrarian myth is with American individualism and self-sufficiency, it might also be surprising to learn (Lobao and Meyer 2004) that “About one-third of American farmers receive government payments, but because they are earmarked for specific commodities, such as corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and rice, the largest farms have an increasingly larger share of the subsidies. Nonetheless, by 2000, government payments constituted nearly half of net farm income.” 

Hofstadter pointed out that the more commercial farming got, the more popular culture leaned into to the nostalgic story of the small farm owner as the wholesome, simple, independent keeper of the American flame.  Yet, even by the mid1800s there was already a rural-urban divide in the popular culture.  Among farm writers, “the city was symbolized as the home of loan sharks, dandies, lops, and aristocrats with European ideas who despised farmers as hayseeds.” Hofstadter argued this tension was rooted in the growth of urban markets which pushed farmers into commercial production for cities.  And the agrarian myth contributed to rural-urban hostility because it “encouraged farmers to believe that they were not themselves an organic part of the whole order of business enterprise and speculation that flourished in the city, partaking of its character and sharing in its risks, but rather the innocent pastoral victims of a conspiracy hatched in the distance. The notion of an innocent and victimized populace colors the whole history of agrarian controversy.” 

Not helping matters is the ways in which American popular culture has often portrayed rural people with contempt or as fodder for comedy (Lichter and Brown).  The urban dandies versus the rural hayseeds has morphed into the coastal elites versus the deplorables.  But sociologists Daniel Lichter and David Brown note that rural and urban areas have always been interdependent on one another, and that their boundaries are increasingly porous.  And the stories we see about rural life in popular culture do NOT reflect the realities of farm work for most folks who do it.  That brings us to our final story in this episode–Caitlin, a 44 year old Hmong-American who lives in Wisconsin.  Like Charmaine, Ruth, and John, she grew up in the midwest doing farm work.  As you listen, ask yourself whether her story is the one that comes to mind when you think about farm childhoods in the midwest.


I was born in a Thai refugee camp called Nong khai that no longer exists, but I came to the state’s I was four and at the time it was only me and my younger sister who was born here in the United States.   Then we relocated, second wave of my second migration for my community. My grandfather’s sister was up here in Eau Claire , Wisconsin, and she was talking about the new education stuff that they were doing up here to really help acclimate and doing very much so needed ESL course work to get people to learn the language and Etc. And so my grandfather thought that that was an opportunistic time for us to move from Memphis but to be closer to family and my grandfather was the head of the clan at the time, and so we moved up here and so my childhood really, the bulk of my childhood was spent growing up here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin starting from age five where I started school.  When we were up here, we played indoors a lot. I read a lot. That was my sort of escape. So the play was purely mental, you know, I could go somewhere else in a book. The book could take me somewhere else.

Once we bought the farm and we had 27 acres to do whatever we wanted, my younger siblings grew up playing outside, running around outside, enjoying the weather and, but that was our property and so we couldn’t piss off anybody. We couldn’t you know, and if people did bad things to us, well, it was our property. Right so we would have some kind of right, some way to stand our ground, and say well this is our home we should be safe, we pay for it and so in the sense of that own sense of ownership


When I first started working with storygatherers in Wisconsin, I was surprised to learn of the sizable Hmong-American population in the state.  In fact, Wisconsin is the state with the third largest Hmong-American population after California and Minnesota, and Hmong-Americans are the largest Asian-American subgroup in Wisconsin and make up 10% of the immigrant population there.  If you’re wondering why, it’s because of the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program, which resettled by way of refugee camps in Thailand roughly 90% of Hmong people whom the Vietnam War made refugees in Laos.  Many refugees were soldiers who had fought for the U.S. against communists in Laos.  Others came because of the ravages of the war there. 

Hmong people have been a persecuted ethnic minority historically in Laos and that status followed them to the U.S. when they were placed in overwhelmingly white communities, among neighbors who were sometimes hostile.  Many Hmong Americans recount incidents of both overt and subtle racism.  And in national surveys, Hmong-Americans are more likely than most other Asian-American subgroups to express that they have experienced being discriminated against by police, being insulted or called names, treated poorly by neighbors, receiving poor customer service, and people acting if they are afraid of you or assuming you don’t speak English.  While Caitlin doesn’t share specific experiences with racism, she alludes to that feeling of threat in her comments about how owning the farm meant that her family could stand their ground if people did bad things to them.  Notions of Asian-Americans as a model-minority do not protect Asian-Americans from racism and in fact the concept of model-minority is a myth right alongside the agrarian myth.  As it turns out, there is quite a lot of variation in the status and economic position of Asian-American subpopulations.  The majority of Hmong Americans speak English but compared to other Asian-American subgroups they have the highest proportion of people who haven’t completed high school, and three times the percentage of whites who haven’t completed high school.   Along with Laotian-Americans, Hmong-Americans have the lowest proportion of bachelors degrees, at rates less than half that of white Americans.  Hmong-Americans have the second lowest median annual income among Asian-American subpopulations, and make roughly $3000 less per year than white Americans.  And the refugee experiences comes with its own hardships, as Caitlin shared.


I think back to the refugee days and this is like red dirt, you know living, walking around no shoes, really barefoot playing with stuff. I mean, there’s this one time and this is just stories that are being told to me secondhand right was that I was actually out and I picked up a condom a used condom and I thought in my head that that was a balloon.  Right, and I wanted us to clean it, and clearly I cleaned it and I wanted us to blow, and my parents saw that right and they were like “no, give that to me!” Right, the horrors of that. But that’s what, that’s what refugee kids did. We played with stuff that was left on the ground. That was like garbage that nobody wanted, 

and so you’re always I think, you always know as a kid, as a refugee kid. I think if you were to ask my children that question, it would be vastly different than what I will tell you now, and that you consciously just know like we knew my parents just didn’t have a lot of money. We knew we didn’t have a lot of money but we had enough to get the stuff that we needed, right? So there was enough food to get us fed.

My dad and my parents were farmers and so when we bought the farm we grew our own vegetables, right? And so the plenty in terms of actual food, there’s that right. But the stuff you know, like I couldn’t get the shoes I wanted. I remember I was really little but I was like consciously aware. I mean we bare minimum, you know, my parents made sure that we had five, a set of five clean set of clothing for the work, for the school week. So everybody would have clean clothes to wear to school, but we never had more than that. I think that came very early on for me as a refugee kid. We didn’t have a lot. You never asked for more than what you needed. 

My parents came here with nothing.  They came from a period in my community’s history where lost was everything right? They lost everything.They lost their country. They lost their home. 

They lost their identity. They lost what little things that they have that made them feel like they were actually human beings. They lost their home. They lost the livestock that would help them barter and make money. I mean, this is a people my people were not technologically advanced people. My people were agrarian people, they were farmers, simple farmers that took up the cause of a war to survive. They just knew they were dirt poor because when they came here to the United States, they barely had a dollar to their name.

We did, we did pickle farming. We grew like acres of cucumbers and during that time you could go and it was hard laborious work to pick pickles, take it to the site where they would take the, they would weigh the pickles. They would sort them out by size and then however it was and they gave you payment per whatever it was that you were able to bring in by weight and by size. You know and so, I worked and we worked, everybody worked.  You know, and if my mom had a new baby, that baby was like at the garden. We had a makeshift little, I would just call it a makeshift little thing that had something to cover you from the shade, and to provide you some shade during extreme heat, but the baby would like,my baby siblings would be there and my responsibility would be to watch the babies. So, you know, I mean you always knew we were very much a part of this earning process with my parents at the beginning.

I remember, even little, my parents tried to turn it into a game where we went and we picked, I don’t know how this was even happening at the time, but like my parents got in touch with people who said “hey, we’ll pay you to go and pick up worms.” Right to go and get worms and we’ll buy it by the bucket. Right? And so these are like extra dollars that they were looking to earn right? And so like it’d be like midnight and here we were with our flashlights trying to find worms.



And so these were the things were, like and I think my younger siblings kind of sort of new to, like not like the young young one like my little baby brother who grew up when I was oh who’s born when I was 21. I mean that’s vastly different childhood he had, because then as semi older siblings who are who were, you know, entering adulthood we could give him extra cash that my parents would be able to give us.  But we were able to kind of sort of provide differently for him. But those were the things that we did. My siblings were engaged in that we would help like as you got older, you know, like if we were picking cucumber and the kids got tired of picking or they weren’t picking the rows well enough they got relegated to  carrying the buckets back over to at the edge of you know, the rows and they would pour the pickles, the cucumbers into the sacks that we had. Right? And so that was our responsibility. And then I remember when you know, like my younger siblings were a little bit older and they could watch the kids. That was my responsibility. I would go go to the rows that the  the older adults were in and I would pick up their pickle other cucumbers and I would bring it back and then I would pour it into the bag. That was my job. So I think that you know, the my siblings got it these were very much so a part of that and that that you know, trance eventually translated into my parents becoming farmers market vendors and farmers that they you know.

I call them part-time farmers because we always did it after they got back from their full-time job, right? And so we were on the farm constantly working and you know this is like our Friday nights were not fun. I mean Friday nights. I mean we dreaded Friday nights because Friday nights are when we had to clean the cucumbers, we had to clean the carrots, and this was a time when my mom grew everything like she was like, “I need to be a vendor that had everything” and so we had to clean the potatoes, clean the radishes, clean all of the, you know lettuces and onion, peel the onions and you know or clean the onions so that they they were ready for market and all that stuff. So, you know, I think the kids were very much a part of that earning process for the family so that we knew, like we always knew like my siblings we never really asked for more than what our parents could really provide because we were part of that earning process. So we knew you know to sustain a certain way of living we were helping our parents. So they knew they didn’t ask either, you know and until again we all got older and we started working, you know jobs and you know fast food and earning some cash and learning how to drive. We really, I mean we kind of understood where the family was financially.

It’s I knew how to work with little kids. It was just kind of doing everything that I was already doing at home with my younger siblings now just in a paid capacity within this, you know space where the kids are supposed to be. And so that was my first real official job and then over the years. But it could just be that I’ve always been this person that is always facilitated stuff. And so it just naturally moved into that direction where I did facilitated stuff, you know, and my and my parents wanted us to really do well in school. And so they during the school year while I was growing up they actually discouraged us from getting part-time jobs. And so I never worked during the school year. 

I walked into college with zero. 

Even though my parents are semi-retired, they are retired now, they just can’t stop the the farmers market, you know, none of us are here to help them anymore.  Not in the capacity like what like what we once did we were like voluntold when we were little you’re going to do that. You’re going to help us learn this so that we can pay for things that the family is going to need and the coming year, right? And so there was a collective effort but now everybody’s grown, everybody has a job there. You know, many of us have, many of my siblings have moved out of the area. And there’s only a couple of us left. We can’t help my parents the way that we used to and still they farm and still my mom struggles and fights to keep her table at the local Eau Claire Farmers Market.

All eight out of their 10 children have gone through higher ed. We have the two younger ones that are still trying to find themselves. Like we never had a chance to find ourselves. 



But my two younger brothers can have the ability to find themselves because it was not an identity there so far from that immediate refugee kid mentality that we had like the first five or six of us right where that was so tangible. The story was so still so real in the sense because we were we were the living aftermath of that, right, that diaspora. And then the younger ones that came after there was a little bit more of a breathing room. Like they could dream more they could think more like I want to do the things that I wanted Caitlin was driven by what are the things that I need to do so that I can survive  and excel and be able to do the things that my parents would like me would like to see for me to do right? And so so I’m driven by that and but then I look at my children. And I’m like, “oh there’s a problem. It’s like Houston, we have a problem,” because they’re so completely American in the sense that they never had to wonder where a meal was going to come from  ever, right and then you know, my husband doesn’t help because he wants to give them everything that he never got when he was little so that doesn’t help with the privilege piece. But my children are so much more privileged than me and I think the one thing that I hope that I can teach my children in that privileged part is are the things that I really wish. I really wish I would know.

I tried really hard to live a life of purpose.

I chose instead to understand the circumstances in my life. Like my parents didn’t give me a lot

but I was going to work damn hard to get what I wanted and did I become the millionaire? They would hope for me to become with his American dream. No, but I but I think that there are things that are far more valuable than that and that I hope that we can impart those on our on our kids so that they continue to strive to do better be better but to be kind. To be conscious of where they are and I think that’s more important.


Caitlin’s story has much in common with John’s–how hard her parents had to work to keep the family going, how much all of the kids also had to work and pitch in to keep the family going.  Like Ruth from the previous episode of 1500 Stories, she chose to leave farm work.  Like John, she went on to college.  The virtue of hard work and the importance of family ties run throughout her story.  But the trauma of her refugee past, her stories of what it means to be an immigrant in America, of fleeing a homeland and trying to make a new home thousands of miles away, of losing an identity and trying to craft a new one in a country that doesn’t always accept you, these stories are also a story of rural America.  In Wisconsin, immigrants make up a little under 6% of the workforce, but nearly 20% of those working in agriculture.    These stories are the invisible stories in the American mythmaking about rural life.  And we will continue to explore more invisible stories of farm life in the next episode of 1500 Stories.  

Outro Music


This episode was written, produced and edited by Jennifer R. Myhre, with editing assistance from Lea Li and Deven Sutaria.  The music that opens and closes each 1500 Stories episode was composed and produced by Benjamin Henderson, who also composed the additional music.  You’ll find references for the sociology and data discussed in this episode in the show notes.  The 1500 Stories podcast was launched thanks to generous financial assistance from the Mellon Foundation and American Council of Learned Societies community college faculty fellowship program.  However, any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed here are our own and do not necessarily represent those of Mellon or ACLS.  Thanks to Lea Li and Melinda Poley for their ears in early stages of drafting this episode.  Special thanks to all of the storygatherers who conducted interviews for the project and all of the people who shared their stories so openly.  You can hear and watch more of these stories at and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at 1500 Stories.  Thank you for listening.  Listening deeply to another person’s story is one of the most valuable gifts you can give them.  Imagine how the world might change if we really listened to each other.