Seabrook - A Community Like Any Other? by Karenjot Kaur
Seabrook Farms housed its laborers in what amounted to a small town with a strong sense of community. The company provided laborers and residents with far more than the basic necessities of homes, jobs, wages, and schools for their children. The town thrived with many shops, childcare centers, and recreational opportunities, so much so that the children who lived there were unsuspecting of the industrial labor that had initially brought their parents to southern New Jersey. The children participated in conventionally American activities, celebrating holidays prominent throughout the nation, uninhibited by discrimination on account of their race that they might face elsewhere, and often unaware of the refugee or parole status that their families held. The paternalism of factory owner C.F. Seabrook allowed the families to thrive in the community town, so long as they accepted that many aspects of their lives were under the absolute control of the industrialist.
The Seabrook School often celebrated holidays such as Thanksgiving with the same grandiosity of crafts and food that children across the nation enjoyed to mark the occasion. They commemorated the holiday's mythology and legends concerning the early unity that marked relations between European settlers and Native Americans. Children crafted Native American headpieces, donned the attire of early Americans, and personified important individuals, just as Thanksgiving is celebrated in schools throughout the nation today. If celebrations at Seabrook gave attention to the troubling questions of national race relations that marked this period and the histories of laborers at the company, those tensions do not appear here.
Whatever consciousness that the children at Seabrook had about their racial differences are similarly absented from the company's photographs. They casually celebrated Flag Day in school, respectfully holding and displaying the American flag with the utmost pride and respect. Paradoxically, their families were residents of Seabrook due to their parole status and internment, which arose from their loyalties being questioned. The children, just as any other American students on this holiday are shown embracing their patriotism, without regard for this history.
Where difference is made readily apparent, it is in a celebratory manner. On International Day, Seabrook's diverse children donned traditional attire honoring their heritage. Seabrook's brand of pluralism allowed residents to celebrate the United States while simultaneously honoring the traditions and customs their ancestors passed along, which the company promoted as consistent with American ideals. Seabrook Farms held itself up as a melting pot during a time period in which individuals of many ethnicities were pinpointed and attacked. The structure and sense of community in Seabrook were means of escaping the outside world - so much so that the children who lived there were not able to perceive how their lives differed from those of other American children. To them, Seabrook was a community like any other.