Families that had worked for themselves in Oaxaca had to become farmworkers to feed their children. The stories we hear follow a pattern. Displaced from Oaxaca, they migrated to Sinaloa to pick tomatoes, then to San Quintin in Baja, California, to pick berries. Formerly independent indigenous farmers became workers in service to the berry revolution that has swept Europe and the U.S. in the last twenty years, Oaxaca migrants in Baja lived/and live in cardboard houses and company towns without clean water to drink, even after long days picking in the desert heat. Driscoll's created a Mexican subsidiary - Berry Mex - that received millions in government subsidies to create a desalination plan for water to irrigate cash crops. But no water flowed into the homes of the pickers. Alfreda, a Zapotec, tells us she was forced to buy four foot high jugs of water to drink even as the fields were flooded with government subsidized salt-stripped seawater.
It is 2015 but Oxnard sometimes still feels like Steinbeck country in the 1930s. Oxnard still feels like the town that Cesar Chavez came to live in as a child during the Depression, that he tried to organize, first in the late 1950s for Fred Ross's Community Services Organization, then for the national farm workers' union he and Dolores Huerta founded in the early 1960s. The workers are just hands. The workers are just fingers in service of the fresh fruit we like to eat every day. Anastasia Lopez, who came with her family from Oaxaca to California many years ago, shows us her knees. swollen and painful years after she stopped working in the fields. Margarita, another farmworker, shows us the knotted ridges on her hands.
Standing on picket lines through the night to keep the growers from bringing in newly arrived undocumented immigrants to break the strike, the workers were threatened by security firms that have traveled up and down the West coast to intimidate farmworkers. These "security" firm employees wear military-style vests and carry tasers they sometimes use on the farmworkers. Bernardino was beaten, tasered ad then fired. He sued and the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board ruled in his favor. The company was forced to hire him back. He returned to work with a police escort and officials from the ALRB. But in the end, it was too much for him. He's taken to organizing soccer leagues instead among the indigenous men and boys who work in the fields.
Juvenal has returned to organizing with the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), now run by Arcenio Lopez, a growing community organization that offers health education, language and job training for indigenous women, runs youth programs, and driver's license classes. Juvenal says that farmworkers in Oxnard are interested in forming a new Mixteco community organization to fight for their rights. And he is working to help them do just that. But this new group - the workers tell him - must not be called a union. Still it is encouraging that there is a sentiment among the workers that something needs to change, that the current conditions are unsustainable. Juvenal tries to tell them that, with a union, they can have health care. They can have higher wages, shorter hours and other benefits. It is a slow process. And yet, says Arcenio, the Mixteco of Oxnard just turn toward labor justice. Still, many are scare, even as their families in San Quintin strike and block the roads that are the main arteries of the hemispheric berry trade. And their families in Washington state form independent unions, wage strikes and mount boycotts. Conditions as they are cannot stand. Those beautiful berries that were suddenly everywhere in North American markers have a history that most of us do not want to know.