Advocacy & Activism, Culture, Health & Safety

Watsonville Organizations Learn More about Oaxacan Community

From Watsonville.Patch.com, Maria Grusauskas, 9 Apr 2011.

Sarait Martinez and Leoncio Vasquez spoke at the presentation. Credit Maria Grusauskas

Sarait Martinez and Leoncio Vasquez spoke at the presentation. Credit Maria Grusauskas

Watsonville residents and representatives of various local organizations learned about the Oaxacan community in Watsonville and California in a free workshop Thursday.

The workshop, entitled “Working with Oaxacan Populations” was held at the Watsonville Civic Center Community Room and covered the history of the indigenous people, their immigration patterns to California and their traditions and beliefs. The goal of the meeting was for organizations to network and think together about how to better serve the local community of indigenous people and families in Watsonville.

Over 100 individuals attended the workshop, representing various organizations including the CRLA, the Pajaro Unified Valley School District, Neighborhood Services, the Watsonville Police Department, and many different educational outreach and youth services groups.

The Central Coast has the highest percentage of indigenous migrant laborers in California at about 45 percent, according to the Indigenous Farmworker Study published in January 2010. Approximately 120,000 indigenous persons work in the agricultural sector in California, and that number jumps to 165,000 when children are included. This means that 45,000 children are are also working in the fields. Agrigultural labor laws are different than other labor laws, making this legal.

Traditional Oaxacan beadwork was for sale. Credit Maria Grusauskas

Traditional Oaxacan beadwork was for sale. Credit Maria Grusauskas

California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) was one of the first organizations that realized indigenous farmworkers were being marginalized, speaker Leoncio Vasquez said at the event.

“They saw that indigenous farmworkers were very different from the traditional farmworkers. The CRLA sought the support of the leaders of these communities, to work with them, to educate them, to get involved in educating their children and be active in the community as they were in Mexico,” he said.

Vasquez is Project Coordinator of the Binational Center for Developement of Indigenous Oaxacan Communities, an organization that formed in 1993.

The greatest difficulty facing the indigenous communities living in Watsonville is the language barrier.

“A lot of people assume that since we are Mexican, we should speak Spanish. And a lot of people think we speak a dialect of Spanish,” he said.

Over 100 individuals representing dozens of local organizations attended. Credit Maria Grusauskas

Over 100 individuals representing dozens of local organizations attended. Credit Maria Grusauskas

The reality is that the state of Oaxaca is home to 16 different ethnic groups, each with its own language. Mixteco is spoken by the majority of Oaxacan immigrants to the Watsonville area, followed by Zapoteco and Triqui.

We look different, we dress differently, and there are really negative terms and discrimination even in Mexico,” said Sarait Martinez, the other speaker of the CBDIO.

The term Oaxaquita, or “little Oaxacan” is a common term applied to Oaxacans by Mexicans, and although it seems to be used in an affectionate manner, Martinez said it is offensive to many Oaxacans.

Angelica Isidro, a community advocate and translator also spoke. She has a radio show in Mixteco on 90.9 FM from 9-11 a.m. every Sunday. Credit Maria Grusauskas

Angelica Isidro, a community advocate and translator also spoke. She has a radio show in Mixteco on 90.9 FM from 9-11 a.m. every Sunday. Credit Maria Grusauskas

Vasquez and Martinez addressed the differences in Oaxacan customs, including medicinal practices and beliefs as well as family and social values.

El Tequio is the strong sense of community and collective work valued by Oaxacans, and males over 18 are expected to partake in this work for their communities.

When it comes to family, Oaxacans generally do not date. They live with their parents until marriage, which is often arranged and asked for formally, Vasquez said.

“We don’t have a word for divorce. There is no concept. Or girlfriend or boyfriend,” said Vasquez.

Indigenous Oaxacans in the United States must also learn about western medicine, which is vastly different from their traditional medicine.

“We believe there is a balance between hot and cold and when that balance breaks down we get sick,” said Vasquez.

The Oaxacans are very connected to the earth and have been using medicinal herbs for hundreds of years to treat a variety of ailments.

“It is a shock for us to wait for four hours and only get five minutes with a doctor,” said Vasquez.

Rosa Hernandez, a member of the Oaxacan Action Group, said the greatest need right now among the indigenous community is for Mixteco interpreters. The group has been meeting with members of the indigenous community once a month in an effort to make valuable connections in providing them with the services they need.

“We’ve started to have our meetings at local homes now. At every meeting we have a facilitator and a translator so that whatever is being said is understood by all. It gives us an opportunity to learn about the Oaxacan community and to have that dialogue,” she said.

The event was organized by the Watsonville Community Connections Coalition, and presented by the Binational Center for Developement of Indigenous Oaxacan Communities.

Read at: Watsonville.Patch.com, “Watsonville Organizations Learn More about Oaxacan Community” by Maria Grusauskas, 9 Apr 2011.

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