A number of years ago, long before billionaire provocateur Donald Trump demonized undocumented Mexican workers and called for the erection of a new wall along the southern U.S. border, the Land Stewardship Project began work as an ally for immigrant farmworker rights and immigration reform.
Our latest endeavor along these lines is a trip south of the border called, “Agriculture, Land Rights & Immigration: The Mexico-Midwest Connection.” This LSP-Witness for Peace event in March will provide an opportunity for our members to connect with rural residents in Mexico and discuss the common challenges they face in a world increasingly dominated by unfair trade policies, corporate agriculture and threats to basic human rights. More on this later. First, here’s a little background on why LSP is involved in the issue of immigrant rights in the first place.
A Truly Sustainable Ag
Over the past 10 years, an increasing number of our members have become interested in immigrant rights and immigration reform. In rural southern Minnesota, for example, we’ve seen a significant growth in the immigrant population, many of whom have been displaced from their homes and farms in Latin America by the very same U.S. trade and farm policies that damage family farms here in this country.
Some LSP farmers have wanted to hire immigrant workers but have been stymied by the complexity of U.S. immigration laws. Others see the opportunity to provide start-up farming options for these workers, many of whom come from farming backgrounds. And LSP’s mission of building healthier rural communities pushes us as well to work to tear down racial disparities in education, healthcare, employment and criminal justice.
LSP is convinced that we can’t build a truly healthy, sustainable food and agriculture system in the U.S. unless:
1) Immigrant workers are respectfully treated and paid fairly on factory farms.
2) A comprehensive and just reform of U.S. immigration laws is enacted.
3) Immigrant farmers and farmers of color have access to land and the opportunity to begin farming on their own right here in the Midwest.
Accomplishing these objectives won’t be easy. It will take a strong coalition of immigrant rights advocates and white allies, rural and urban people, working together to overcome years of exploitation of people of color and Native Americans during our nation’s agricultural history.
And it will take us understanding how U.S. farm and trade policy has not only detrimentally affected family farms and the land in the U.S., but also how destructive these policies have been for farmers and rural communities in other countries, and in particular, Mexico.
Mexico has been the target of major foreign investment and transnational corporations since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994, and more recently since constitutional reforms were passed in 2014. This has had a devastating effect on the countryside: small farmers’ holdings are targeted for purchase for industrial agriculture use or tourist development, support for small farms is almost non-existent, communal lands are up for sale, and mega-projects have proliferated, polluting the land and off-shoring the profits.
Many people have no option but to migrate to the U.S. In addition, many of the human rights violations in Mexico are committed against community members fighting to protect their land and their way of life. U.S. foreign policy plays a big role in this story through free trade policies, support for transnational businesses, the drug war and militarization, and the lack of insistence on human rights improvements. As long as Mexico is “open for business,” it seems, the U.S. and the Mexican governments seem content with the status quo.
Details of the Trip
This is a key time for people in our region to learn more about what we have in common with rural Mexicans. Building cross-border solidarity between rural people in the Upper Midwest and rural people in Mexico will be another helpful strategy in creating an agriculture that favors people and the land over the profits of corporate agricultural interests. Out of this deeper understanding and analysis of Mexico-Midwest connections, participants in the LSP-Witness for Peace delegation can help LSP take further action on issues of immigration, trade and agriculture while learning how to fully engage their fellow rural community members on these issues.
The trip runs from March 11-20 and participants will get to learn about rural communities in the states of Oaxaca and Morelos. Here are a few examples of site visits that will take place during the trip:
• Cedicam—Effects of NAFTA on the Oaxacan Countryside
Cedicam works in one of the most eroded areas in the world. Primary projects include reforestation efforts, native seed use, and promotion of local markets and local food consumption. They work to prevent out-migration, which skyrocketed after NAFTA went into effect 21 years ago.
• Puente — Amaranth Production for Health and Livelihood in Oaxacan Families and Youth
Puente works to provide economic opportunities and greater nutrition for Oaxacan families through the cultivation and consumption of the traditional amaranth plant. Because traditional crops like corn and beans are no longer profitable, the organization provides economic opportunities for farmers and also ways for people to use amaranth in their home cuisine.
• Asamblea — Defense of Territory and Threats of Mega-Projects on Culture and Communities
The Asamblea is an organization made up of indigenous communities of farmers and fishermen in the Isthmus region of Oaxaca. They work to protect the land from mega-projects, specifically “green” wind farms. These projects threaten their land, their livelihood and their way of life, and generate energy and/or carbon credits for corporations like Coca-Cola, Walmart and Heineken.
• Capulálpam — Resistance & Alternatives to Migration
Calpulálpam de Méndez is a town of about 1,300 inhabitants, mostly of Zapotec origin, located in the Sierra Juarez region of Oaxaca. As opposed to other nearby towns, Calpulalpam has almost no out migration. One of the principal reasons for this is that they have developed community projects, such as a sawmill and ecotourism, which support the entire community. Additionally, they have successfully resisted a mining project that would have threatened their environment, health and way of life.
• Vida Nueva —Weaving Co-op
Vida Nueva is a women’s weaving cooperative from the Zapotec community of Teotitlán del Valle, a town with a long history of migration to the U.S. This traditional indigenous community is known worldwide for its long line of weavers. Vida Nueva provides a sustainable alternative for single mothers, unmarried women taking care of their parents and widows. The mission of their cooperative is to create economic opportunities for women, serve their community and preserve their Zapotec heritage.
Sound interesting? Check out the sidebar above for details on how to sign-up for this trip.
Doug Nopar, an LSP organizer based in Lewiston in southeastern Minnesota, can be reached at 507-523-3366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.