O103: Oaxacan activists visit local migrant workers

From my local paper, Edward Sifuentes wrote about these Oaxacan activists. I found it refreshing to see news of activists coming to hear the stories of American abusive treatment. In Myths America, my experience says that this new perspective doesn’t exist. But, again Myths America is busted.

I may be stretching fair use a bit, as there is not a thing I want to exclude from Mr. Sifuentes’ article. Reading it I felt very uninformed, except on a factual level. As with my home, the mobile home park community, there are three Spanish speaking households with whom I can’t communicate. I hope to take Spanish classes this next year as others in my park have done. Why Americans are not taught both throughout school years has baffled me for years. The Americas contain more Spanish speakers than English speakers. Oh yeah, white privilege again.

You will see from this article that the population estimate of 25,000 is high for the Oaxacan immigrants alone, not just all Mexican immigrants. Oaxacan activists Socorro Zurita Vazquez, left, and Centelia Maldonado spoke with fellow Oaxacans on Wednesday about the difficulties many face after coming north to find work.

Centelia Maldonado saw firsthand the toll that migrant work takes on a person.

Her father was a migrant farm worker most of his life and suffered many health problems later in life that she said stemmed from the often backbreaking work he performed.

Now, the 40-year-old activist from the impoverished Mexican state of Oaxaca said she wants to prevent her countrymen from having to migrate to the U.S. by helping create jobs at home.

Maldonado was one of a small group of activists from the impoverished state of Oaxaca that visited day labor sites and migrant camps in the Rancho Penasquitos area Wednesday.

She said the group wanted to see the migrants' living and working conditions to take back their experiences and help dispel some myths about migration.

When migrants return to their communities with American clothes, cars and money, people see the benefit of coming to the U.S., but they don't realize the dangers and hardships that migrants face, she said.

"We want to let people know the suffering people go through and to look for alternatives" to migration, Maldonado said.

At a day-labor site the group visited Wednesday afternoon, a group of about 30 men milled around under the hot sun waiting for a job. Ramiro Santiago, a 60-year-old Oaxacan man, said he had been waiting since about 6 a.m. without any luck.

"There's very little work," Santiago said.

The old man, who was leaning against a utility box wearing a dark baseball cap to protect his face against the sun's rays, said he's been in the country for three months. He said he gets work mowing lawns and pulling weeds for homeowners about two days a week.

Socorro Zurita Vazquez, one of the activists, said there is a better way for Oaxacans to make a living.

"Their sons are left behind and they come here to suffer," she said.

Vazquez said she hopes her visit will spark interest in a plan to create jobs at home by starting small companies that produce Oaxacan crafts, textiles and traditional food for export to the U.S.

"We may be poor in economic terms, but we are rich in culture and natural resources," Vazquez said.

Maldonado said her father began working as a migrant farmworker in northern Mexico and California when she was 2 years old. She said economic trade agreements and policies in Mexico that favor industrial farmers have forced people to search for work in the U.S.

"All these kids will be sent back to us when they are no longer able to work," Maldonado said looking at the group of predominantly young day laborers.

Oaxaca is one of the more economically depressed states in Mexico. It is inhabited predominantly by indigenous people, many of whom speak native Mexican languages and little Spanish.

Political turmoil, environmental devastation and economic problems have conspired to keep indigenous people largely undereducated and unable to continue their traditional farming way of life, said Jose Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Frente Indigena Binacional Oaxaqueno, the Oaxacan Indian rights group that organized the visit.

Oaxacan activists Jose Gonzalez, left, Bernardo Ramirez and Centelia Maldonado talk to a fellow Oaxacan at a day-laborer site in Rancho Bernardo on Wednesday. The Oaxacan activists toured migrant camps to gather information about the hardships many migrants face after crossing the U.S. border.

As many as 25,000 Oaxacan immigrants are estimated to live in North County, Gonzalez said.

In recent months, Oaxaca continues to simmer with protests and calls for the ouster of the state's governor, Ulises Ruiz, whom activists blame for political unrest and human rights abuses.

Oaxaca City was the site of sometimes-violent demonstrations in 2006, when protesters seized the city's center for months and accused the governor of electoral fraud. The federal government eventually sent in police to clear the city of protesters, and Ruiz remains in office.

The conflict began as a teachers' strike in May, 2006, but quickly mushroomed into a broad protest against centuries of social and economic injustices.

Contact staff writer Edward Sifuentes at esifuentes@nctimes.com.

WALDO NILO Staff Photographer

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