Human rights for farm workers gained through education


root - Posted on 31 December 1969

by Alex Cuff PNN Newsbrief Editor

Maximino Lopez is having trouble with the word Paloma, the Spanish word for pigeon or dove. Lopez, a Mixtec Indian from the Mexican state Oaxaca, is a student at the Oxnard church where classes in both Spanish and English are taught. Due to economic troubles on his family farm where he tended goats, he came to Oxnard to work in the raspberry fields.

The Mixtec Indians, who come to the United States from southern Mexico, speak their indigenous language known as Mixteco. Without the advantage of knowing Spanish or English, they are often cheated by dishonest growers. After a week of work, "we went to cash it (the paycheck) and there were no funds, but there was nothing we could do," Lopez said. "I don’t know if I’ll ever make enough money to go home for good."

Mixtecs tend to be the youngest and poorest population of California’s low-wage farm workers and according to some studies, there are about 80,000 Mixtecs in California. Farm advocacy groups, including the California Rural Legal Assistance, are increasing their efforts in providing education around labor laws and civil rights.

The workers come to Ventura’s many farm fields but are unable to understand either the Spanish of their fellow workers or the English of their bosses. "They’re scared of being robbed, of being stopped by police. They end up isolating themselves, essentially like birds in a cage," said Antonio Flores, a Mixtec outreach worker at California Rural Legal Assistance. Flores began running the classes in August with the help of several volunteers.

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