M. Janine Duron is the Executive Director of CITA, Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agrícolas or Independent Agricultural Workers’ Center. A not-for-profit, bi-national, grassroots farm worker membership organization, CITA is funded by Catholic Relief Services of Mexico. Its mission is to help agricultural employers attain and retain a viable work force and to help raise the standard of living and working for farm workers.
So, maybe what makes our nation so great is our freedom to love, our freedom to prosper, and our freedom to help others prosper.
What makes this slice of time so great is technology. What wouldn’t the beloved César Chávez have accomplished with the tools we now have in our hands?
Witnessing the amazing toppling of regimes reminds me of some toppling that needs to occur in our own nation. Not of a regime but of old and misguided ideologies about whom and what is best for our farm workers. About misplaced loyalties and worn-out attitudes regarding farmers and of the “governing” of America’s oldest and—in many ways finest—industry.
Gone are the abuses of the 50’s. The 60’s and 70’s clearly belong to César Chávez and the UFW [United Farm Workers]. Who can measure the pride I find all around me in 70- and 80-year-old men and women who believed and prospered because of him?
Certainly new abuses have taken their place. The cunning are crafty and getting bolder every day. There are pockets of abuse—great pockets and great abuse—pesticide and chemical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse. Financial and downright racial abuses threaten those who bless our nation with their labor.
Speaking of racial abuse: are we not shooting ourselves in the foot? Are we or our children going out and taking and keeping these jobs, or do we really need those who can and will? When did we stop thinking for ourselves and let the media take over? Were we not taught not to believe everything we hear? Take care of the foreign worker and he will take care of us, yes even in this day of terrorism, greed, and cartels. The other 99.9% just want to walk our streets of gold so they can feed their families.
Back to reconciliation. Advocates! A wise man recently said we farm worker advocates are “in a field where polarization is the expected, and unfortunately, (the) accepted modus operandi.” How true, but how can this be? Are we so blind and selfish as to be so easily defeated by the oldest tactic in the book: “divide and conquer?”
Employers! When was the last time your worker(s) said that you “treat them like family?” That they feel needed and appreciated, so much so that they are willing to leave their families and return to you each year out of honor and respect and, yes, love? Certainly love is not a required ingredient in your relationship, but how could there be anything but? You prosper because of them, and you are fully empowered by Someone to help them prosper in turn. What would it cost to get to know and understand and openly appreciate your workers? What would that bring you in terms of increased loyalty and productivity?
Government Staff and Officials! Those of you charged with processing H-2A petitions and those who administer our state and Federal agencies: you live and work amongst the regulations that are intended to protect farm workers. But do you know whom and what these farm workers are? How about the employers whose entire season’s production, marketing, and ability to continue are in your hands? Do you understand the critical timing of a farmer’s lifelong investment in a perishable crop and wildly fluctuating market? Do you weigh the farmer’s need against those ridiculous H-2A requirements and make and defend the right decision? (Come on, admit it, would you try to do this if you weren’t absolutely desperate for someone to bring in your crops?) Can the audit and fraud division pick it up from there, giving a chance to the honest and well-meaning employers, for whom you work, whose employer taxes pay your salary and benefits, a chance to survive another season in this awkward economy? And a chance for the others to hang themselves, yes, but not on the good employer’s time or dime.
We may not be able to all come together in one giant “kum ba ya” and learn about each other’s work, frustrations, and accomplishments. We may not care about the other segment of involved citizens in a farm worker’s life and work, but we should. We may have to live within outdated and wholly misguided rules and regulations for awhile longer, but we can come together in spirit and practice by vowing to:
Instead of being criticized all of my life for this incomprehensible passion and dedication I feel toward sservice to farm workers and their employers, how nice it would have been to have a collaboration spring forth each time instead. Who knows, maybe a little of my strange thinking together with yours might have made more of a difference.
Life brings many heavy burdens for each of us, but I dare say that yours and mine are hardly worth mentioning compared to those faced by farm working families as employers or their workers. Helping them with compassionate works and hearts makes those burdens much easier to bear. May someone help bear yours and your children’s one day as recompense for what you did for others.
Aren’t farm workers ready for another great move on their behalf? How can we top what César did for them? We cannot, but we can carry on in his example of reconciliation and excellence and who knows how those needs will disappear, with a new sense of significance, worth, and empowerment taking their place.
For more information, contact:
CITA – Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agrícolas/Independent Agricultural Worker’s Center
2764 S Maple Avenue
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