Peeling Back the Layers of Injustice: Advocating for Farmworkers

Posted on 05/29/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: immigration, policy, farm workers

By: Veronica Bonilla, Policy and Legislation Fellow, LULAC National

Organic. Locally-sourced. Free of pesticides and genetically modified organisms.

These are often the things that consumers are concerned about when it comes to their fruits and vegetables. Just a few weeks ago, Chipotle Mexican Grill was the latest restaurant chain to announce that it is steering clear of genetically engineered ingredients in its food. As healthy eating trends sweep across the nation, so few of us stop to think about whose hands picked the food on our tables—much less if these hands are located on the other side of the border.

While the U.S. government has strict food quality standards in place, little regard is paid to the people who get that food from point A to B. In response to consumer pressure for increased transparency, accountability, and goodwill, many U.S.-based food companies enacted corporate social-responsibility initiatives related to the well-being of farmworkers, including the International Produce Alliance to Promote Responsible Industry. However, the fight for workplace rights and fair working conditions for farmworkers is far from over.

Imagine only earning $8-10 for a full 10-hour day’s worth of work, if you’re lucky enough to be paid in the first place. Agribusiness, distributors, and retailers continue to grow wealthy as thousands of indigenous people are exploited, particularly from the regions of Huasteca, Oaxaca, and Guerrero.

The Los Angeles Times December 2014 feature “Product of Mexico” provided a devastating look into the squalid and inhumane conditions many Mexican workers endure. Often, these workers face malnourishment, child labor, rodent infested living quarters in labor camps, and in some cases, their wages are arbitrarily withheld.

Although they face an uphill battle, farm workers are fighting back. In a historic move, the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice led a strike of fifty thousand farmworkers in March. Their demands were simple—an end to poverty and abuse in Mexico’s produce industry.

Most recently, farm workers in the San Quintin Valley of Baja California began fighting for better wages and working conditions. As of May 2015, the farmworkers and the Mexican government have reached a tentative agreement that would raise farmworker pay to almost $13 an hour. While the deal has not been formalized, many speculate that the motivation behind conceding to the farmworker’s demands was the threat of an international boycott of produce from the San Quinten Valley, including the produce crops of U.S. based agribusiness corporations like Driscoll, the world’s largest distributer of berries.

We’re more connected and affected by these human rights violations than we realize as sixty-nine percent of the vegetables and thirty-percent of the fruit available in U.S. grocery stores are imported from Mexico.

These abuses don’t just happen in Mexico, however; with many finding their way into our own agricultural economy. In 2013, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers advocated for a “Fair Food Program” for Florida’s tomato pickers. Immokalee workers had long been subjected to severely low wages and poor working living conditions. Like the San Quintin Valley farmworkers, a sustained boycott strategy allowed them to accomplish a number of labor reforms.

These food chains make our daily nutrition possible and we cannot allow ourselves to continue to sit idly by and avert our eyes from the abuses that surround us. We can, and should, demand that retailers in the U.S. hold agribusiness companies accountable for the welfare of their farmworkers by signing petitions, such as the one created by the United Farm Workers.

The issue of farm worker rights touches everyone, and it is up to us to make sure it is given the attention it desperately needs.

Veronica Bonilla is a Policy and Legislation Fellow at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, DC. Deeply interested in the intersection of communication, politics, and public policy, she is currently pursuing her MA in Political Communication at American University. Veronica also possesses a background in IT governance policy, capital planning and investment control, and technical writing. She received a BS in Marketing from Virginia Tech and is fluent in Spanish.

LULAC and Trade: What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Posted on 05/16/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: immigration, policy

Photo Credit: Andrew Gavin Marshall

By: Tyler Crowe, Policy and Legislation Fellow, LULAC National

As one of the 21st century’s most comprehensive international free trade pacts, understanding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is critical to understanding how the global economy affects your community, bank account, and job.

Unfortunately, we don’t have much to work with. Of writing, only members of Congress, the President, the Trade Ambassador, and representatives of many American companies are allowed to see it entirely –and under tight security at that. What’s more, they are forbidden from speaking publicly about the TPP’s specifics. According to a brief public outline the TPP would, if passed by every party country, mandate universal trade standards and reduce tariffs (taxes) on imports and exports.

The most recent LULAC action on these kinds of agreements was in 2011, when our membership passed a resolution opposing a series of free trade agreements between the U.S. and South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. In their place, we advocated the need for “a new U.S. trade policy that creates living wages, sustainable jobs for people in the U.S. and trade partner countries while promoting democracy, human rights, labor standards, a healthy environment, and access to essential services.”

Businesses see free trade deals as an opportunity to lower costs throughout their supply chain. There are, however, human costs to rapid economic changes –and they affect some people more than others. Transparency issues aside, opposition to the TPP is rooted in this basic fact.

As far as labor advocates are concerned, free trade agreements are an excuse for large corporations to skirt laws, shed workers, and skip taxes. Environmentalists fear that issues like overfishing, logging, and poaching aren’t sufficiently discouraged. When it’s all said and done, these groups recognize that people’s livelihoods will be affected.

Trade is important for any nation to thrive. So important, in fact, that the only nation that claims to be completely self-sufficient is the hermit kingdom of North Korea. Such an extreme is, no doubt, not a sustainable growth model. As an organization of action, LULAC believes that the best trade system is one that is clear, deliberate, and equitable. That said, we strongly support public scrutiny of not just the TPP, but US trade policy in general – for the benefit of all people.

Tyler Crowe is a Policy and Legislation Fellow at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. He specializes in issues related to the economy, resources, and good governance. He received a BA in Chinese Language and Culture and a Certificate in International Agriculture and Natural Resources from the University of Maryland-College Park.

Not Just a “Latino” Issue: Saluting the Voices of Asian American Brothers and Sisters in Fight for Immigration Reform

Posted on 05/15/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: immigration, policy

Photo Credit: Southeast Asia Resource Action Center

By: Luis Torres, Director of Policy and Legislation, LULAC National

With the U.S. Senate passage of the “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” (S.744) in the 113th Congress, it seemed like Congress was taking a long-awaited step forward in the arduous legislative trek toward passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

While not a perfect bill, and certainly not the version that would have been written by civil rights advocates, the bill managed to garner the support of a rainbow coalition of labor, business, civil rights, advocacy, and faith groups looking to advance immigration reform through Congress.

Almost a year after the passage of S.744, the U.S. House of Representatives adjourned the 113th Congress and failed to adopt the immigration legislation – killing any chance of enacting immigration reform.

As a result of repeated instances of congressional inaction, President Obama announced a series of immigration-related administrative actions in November of 2014 to respond to the human consequences of delayed immigration reform. Similar to the support for S. 744, the president’s actions attracted a rainbow coalition of 16 organizations including Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Define American, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Mi Familia Vota, MomsRising, the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Action Network, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), the National Urban League, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Rock the Vote and Voto Latino.

Even though they represented a variety of constituencies, all expressed their support for President Obama’s move to provide temporary relief to millions of immigrants, demonstrating the salience and insectionality of immigration issues.

Immigration Reform as an Issue for Multiple Communities

Even though months have passed since the President announced his administrative actions, our work continues. Strengthening cooperation among organizations working toward the advancement of the immigrant community is crucial to enacting comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

While the media seemingly portrays the fight for immigration reform as a “Latino” issue centering on the voices of Latino advocates, immigrants, and civil rights leaders, the truth is that multiple communities are very much engaged in fighting for change. LGBT , African-American , Asian and Pacific Islander , union, business, and faith groups, among many others, have helped raise the issue of immigration reform as a key topic for their constituencies.

In particular, the Asian American community, like the Latino community, ranks immigration as one of its top issues, along with jobs, the economy, and health care. According to the Center for American Progress:

“Asian Americans are the fastest-growing immigrant population in the United States today. According to 2011 Census data, almost half of all immigrants in the United States—18.2 Million—came from Asia… Asia now represents the largest sending region for immigrants. In 2010, 36 percent of new immigrants to the United States came from Asia, compared to 31 percent from Latin America.”

These statistics underscore the importance of building cross-cultural and cross-community collaboration among groups representing Latinos and Asian Americans on the issue of immigration reform. We enter into dangerous territory when we refuse to acknowledge the diversity of the immigrant justice community and fail to recognize their stake in the battle. Extended family separations, lack of legal protections, and the constant fear of police apprehension affects Asian immigrants just as it does our own population.

LULAC is proud to have partnered with groups like the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) that are working tirelessly to ensure that Asian voices are heard in the national dialogue on immigration. Through their efforts, more and more people are realizing the different faces of the immigration movement, and we enthusiastically applaud their work.

As the Library of Congress notes, May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month “a month to celebrate and pay tribute to the contributions generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders have made to American history, society and culture.” As the country highlights the many contributions of Asian Americans in our country, LULAC salutes the critical voices of our Asian American brothers and sisters in our shared struggle to fight for immigration reform.

Luis Torres is the Director of Policy and Legislation for the League of United Latin American Citizens. Prior to LULAC, he served as Legislative Director for Congressman Silvestre Reyes, former-Chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and was one of a handful of Latino Legislative Directors in the U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, Torres also served as a high school teacher in Washington, D.C. as part of Teach for America. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Government and Sociology from Georgetown University, and a Master of Arts in Teaching from American University.

Are you "Latino" enough for Mark Halperin?

Posted on 05/13/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: identity, politics, intern

By: Francisco Castaneda, LULAC Policy and Legislation Intern

On April 30, 2015, Journalist Mark Halperin, Bloomberg Politics, interviewed Texas Republican presidential candidate and Cuban American Ted Cruz. Halperin’s interview was so guised with racist undertones that ThinkProgress named it the “Most Racist Interview of a 2016 Candidate.” Syndicated journalist Ruben Navarrette compared watching the interview with “watching a college fraternity have fun with racial stereotypes.” The interview has received widespread criticism by individuals from both parties with many labeling it as bad journalism that crosses the line of what is acceptable from a national news anchor.

Throughout the interview, Halperin asked Cruz unorthodox questions completely unrelated to his policies, such as “What’s your favorite Cuban food?” and if he could welcome Rep. Bernie Sanders to the presidential race “en Espanol?”

What is the point of questions like these? What is Halperin trying to achieve by subjecting Ted Cruz to an identity litmus test?

Simply put, he is asking Ted Cruz to prove his Cuban American identity by asking him insignificant questions and scoring his answers based on his own stereotypical assumptions of what it is to be Latino. What does this question try to accomplish besides trying to set a stereotypical standard on what it means to be Cuban/Latino/Hispanic or any other group?

Aside from designating individuals as “different” and “other,” it also reveals the biases and prejudices that can easily make their way into journalism. Can you imagine how inappropriate it would be to ask President Obama a set of questions to determine how black he really is? Or Hillary Clinton how much of a woman she really is? How about a similar set of questions posed to a Jewish candidate? Or a gay candidate? These types of questions are predicated on the idea that there are answers that serve as evidence to a prototype Latino/Black/Gay/Jewish/Woman identity, even though the very idea of such a prototype existing is absurd.

These types of assumptions result in bad questions that discredit the field of journalism. There is no standard Cuban, Latino, Black, Gay, Jewish, etc. individual. People in these communities are of diverse backgrounds, political affiliations, and exhibit a variety of tastes in music and food. Trying to standardize these identities homogenizes the rich experiences of individuals who comprise these groups.

Halperin, in his interview with Ted Cruz, displays what minorities throughout the country have to go through every day in various social settings. Standardizing identities through trivial litmus tests contributes to the process of labeling individuals, reinforcing stereotypes, and dividing society based on these fabricated labels and stereotypes. Halperin attempted this with Ted Cruz by forcing him to prove his identity in a way that would require him to provide Halperin with stereotypical answers that would satisfy his own personal assumptions on what it meant to be Cuban American and Latino. Halperin fails to observe that identity is personal and that each person ascribes their own meaning to their identity. Unfortunately many minorities are not afforded the luxury of personal exploration, and are forced to confront, debate, and challenge socially ascribed expectations about what it means to be Latino, Black, Gay, etc.

Aside from the Latino Litmus Test so poorly demonstrated in the Ted Cruz interview, many Latinos are subjected to an American Litmus Test every day. Many constantly feel pressured to prove how “American” they are; often going to great lengths to do so, from willingly changing the pronunciation of their names to refusing to speak Spanish in public. Historically, many Latinos experienced forced assimilation that often prohibited students from speaking in Spanish at school in an effort to “Americanize” them.

I found Halperin’s interview and lack of respect for the Latino community particularly insulting, because like Ted Cruz, I also do not fit the stereotype that Mark Halperin has likely drawn up about Mexican-Americans. I am not fluent in Spanish and I like Blues-Rock. Does this make me “not Mexican enough” to represent Mexican Americans?

I don’t have to wear a sombrero or wear a zarape and carry around maracas to satisfy someone's craving to put me in a box. Ted Cruz can be a Republican from Texas who listens to country music, runs for President of the United States, and still be as Cuban-American as they come.

We should really care more about Ted Cruz’s policy stances than his ability to “prove” his Cuban American identity. Mark Halperin could have questioned Senator Cruz on how he will sell his immigration position to the Latino community considering that 86% of Latinos are in favor for a path to citizenship, or about his alternatives to the Affordable Care Act which has benefited millions of Latinos, although he continues to voice his opposition to both issues.

For as much as we would like to know Ted Cruz’s favorite Cuban dish or his favorite Cuban singer, I would much rather like to know how his policies are going to impact my future.

Click here to watch highlights from the Halperin and Ted Cruz interview.

Francisco Castaneda is a Policy and Legislation Intern for the League of United Latin American Citizens. He is currently an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with a concentration in International Relations, and minoring in Public Policy. He is also currently attending the Center for American Politics and Public Policy Quarter in Washington Program where he is conducting his own original research on Black and Latino coalition politics in municipal settings.

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