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Up-rooted lives, deep-rooted memories: Stress and resilience among Jamaican agricultural workers in Southern Ontario




Stephanie Mayell


The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) is a transnational labour
agreement between Canada, Mexico, and various Caribbean countries that brings
thousands of Jamaican migrant workers to Canada each year to work on farms. This
thesis explores Jamaican SAWP workers’ experiences of stress in Ontario, and situates
these experiences within a system of power and international inequality. When describing
their experiences of stress and suffering in Ontario, many Jamaican workers drew
analogies between historic and modern slavery under the SAWP. However, stress
discourses also inspired workers to emphasise their resilience, and many workers gave
equal attention to explaining their inherent strength as “Jamaicans”, which they associate
with national independence and the history of slavery. In this way, I suggest stress
discourses are sites of flexibility and resilience for Jamaican workers, and this thesis presents the foremost cultural, political, and historical factors that support Jamaican
workers’ resilience in Ontario. Moreover, the predominant coping strategies workers
employ in Ontario will be explored within the context of their restricted agency under the
SAWP. This thesis concludes with a discussion of stress as an expression of subjectivity
that is characterised by strength, faith, and the history of slavery.

Number of pages



McMaster University

Academic department




Place published

Hamilton, Ontario

File Attachments

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis, Documented cases of abuse, Statistics on work and life conditions, and Systemic/state violation of right/freedom

Target groups

Policymakers and Researchers

Geographical focuses


Spheres of activity

Agriculture, Anthropology, and Health sciences