The Paw Print
The rich farming history throughout the San Luis Valley invokes images of packed potato fields, rows of fresh vegetables and thigh high alfalfa. Before the onslaught of mechanized farming, agribusiness had exclusively relied on migrant farm workers to pick the tons of produce that these fields yielded. The workers who labored so intensively in these fields had traditionally been migrant Latinos, African Americans, Chinese immigrants and poor whites.
Throughout the early part of the 1900’s and on into today farm workers have always been exploited. Being paid the lowest wages out of any manual labor job, farm workers were denied basic human rights and treated like mere livestock. In particular, during the 1920’s through the late 1980’s workers in the South West were required to be sprayed with toxic pesticides before they were able to work in the fields, for fear that they might have bed bugs. This is only one example of how the discrimination against these workers has and continues to affect the migrant farm worker community in which the nation so heavily relies on.
To most living in the Valley, the idea that these types of injustices still take place is unthinkable. However, the reality of agribusiness practices proves that this discrimination is alive and well in Americas fields.
The marginalized issue of justice for farm workers was first addressed by Cesar Chavez, a pioneer in struggling for the human and civil rights of America’s farm workers. Chavez was recognized for his ability to craft the first farm workers union, United Farm Workers Union (UFW). Chaves and countless other supporters risked their lives in the struggle against Agro Business and their in-humane polices towards workers, resulting major victories for farm workers’ rights. Upon his death in 1993, Chavez was awarded the presidential Medal of Freedom by then president Bill Clinton, signifying the importance of the movement he helped galvanize.
Supporting the legacy of Chavez and the farm workers, ASC’s student directed Cultural Awareness and Student Achievement organization (CASA), hosted an event at Vistas restaurant on Tuesday, April 24 in honor of Cesar Chavez, the UFW and their continuing struggle.
The festivities for the evening featured special guest speaker Anthony Chavez, the grandson of Cesar Chavez and an active organizer in the UFW. Along with the appearance of Anthony, CASA presented numerous members of the community who had experienced discrimination while working in the fields, giving attendees a tangible way to relate to this struggle on a local level.
Local community members gave heart felt personal accounts of their experience working in the fields. In particular a local man, Mr. Guillen worked in the potato fields of Monte Vista in the early 70s recounted his story to the audience. “They would cover us with powder insecticide before we could work; afraid we had bedbugs…the pregnant women would often have miscarriages because they would be bent over all day for 12 hours picking potatoes, which was not good for the baby,” said Guillen.
“My grandfather (Cesar Chavez) knew that we had to confront those in power to get justice…there was no other way then and it is the only way now,” said Anthony Chavez while speaking at Vistas. Throughout his presentation Chavez highlighted his grandfather’s legacy while encouraging students, faculty and community members in attendance to think about where their food comes from. “The best way to support farm workers is to become more aware of the food we eat, we need to ask, where does this food come from, how were the workers treated in the harvesting of this food…it may take more time to do this but if we really want to help the people who feed us (farm workers) we need to become engaged consumers with a purpose,” added Anthony.
More importantly, Anthony reminded the audience that oppression experienced by farm workers in the south west and throughout the U.S. is still occurring and students must become active in spreading awareness around these issues. “We are the future of this movement, and its success depends on the involvement of not only the new generation but the prior one,” said Anthony.
This event is just the beginning of other relevant cultural and social events being planned by CASA. All students are encouraged to join the CASA organization. In addition to sponsoring cultural events CASA provides opportunities for scholarships and internships. All interested students should contact Oneyda Maestas at email@example.com.
By ortiveztm on April 26, 2012
Posted in Features