Return our Stolen Dreams! Carmen Mata, Mexican Farmworker Union Leader, Speaks
Carmen Mata addresses at a bi-national conference in Carson, CA in December 2017. Photo Credit: Informativo Pacifica
By Daniel Lichtenstein-Boris
After a 2015 wave of strikes and protests, Driscoll berry pickers in San Quintin, Baja California, called for a boycott of the popular berry label. The protests spread to farm workers in California and the Pacific Northwest, resulting in a pay raise for workers in Baja, and a successful farm worker union organizing drive in Washington State. But even as farm workers celebrated this victory, conditions only have marginally improved.
A leader of the Baja California berry pickers addressed a multi-lingual crowd in Los Angeles on June 23, 2018. The event took place at la Casa Roja, the red house, an office space of the Los Angeles Workers Center.
Carmen Mata, a five-foot tall, 30-year old farm worker from San Quintin, Mexico, rose from her chair to address a Saturday afternoon. Over her reddish-brown skin she wore a woven tunic colored with pink and green designs. She left home at three in the morning, walking in the still moonlight to board a bus to travel from the dusty rural community of San Quintin to Tijuana, crossing the U.S. Mexico border, where she met volunteers with San Diego based Raices Sin Fronteras to drive north to the noon meeting in Los Angeles. Carmen delivered her words clearly, slowly, and deliberately, pausing so that the translator could interpret for the few monolingual English speakers in the room. As she spoke, goosebumps rose on my arms and neck. Her powerful words squeezed the hearts of each of us listening. Below is a translation of her speech.
I come from the Alliance of State and Municipal Organizations of San Quintin, Baja, California. I am secretary general of the organization and a day laborer. I work the black berries, the apricots tomatoes, onions, chilies, and peppers. I have been working since I was eight years old. My parents were migrant farm workers too. We went from Baja to California, and to Sinaloa, all my life, that’s what they did. I have eight brothers. In San Quintin we are Mixtec’s, and from other indigenous communities, a lot of people are from Chiapas, the Mayan.
80,000 day-laborers went into the streets to demand our rights. We want a good salary, we want to be part of the Mexican social security system, to have decent homes, we don’t have that in San Quintin. We make our homes of cardboard and plastic. This is where we live. Pregnant women working. Kids don’t have shoes. Meanwhile the owners of Driscoll are rich. They live in decadence. We want them to share their profits.
We want time for women to have paid leave before and after childbirth. They tell pregnant women there is no work and fire them—with no money. We demand justice. There is a lot of sexual harassment, and women are raped and beat and afterwards the police, the law doesn’t do anything. The Company union, they are only there to collect dues, not to defend our right or wages that we should receive. We ask for an independent union.
We want to reach old age. Of 88,000 workers, not even a quarter get a pension. By 60 or 70 years old, we don’t get work. After working all our lives, we’re fired. That is what we get for our service. There is no respect. They’ve stolen our youth, our health, and our energy. They’ve stolen our whole lives, and now that we’re older, we are worthless. They toss us aside to exploit a new generation,
We make 120 to 130 pesos a day. After our strikes and protests, salaries were raised to 200, 220 pesos. But as they raised the wages, they increased the work. Before we were working double, now it is triple. The government and company united to continue to exploit day laborers, people that migrate from their villages and towns to work the fields to feed their families.
Driscoll is a multimillion dollar company. Its’ owners are millionaires. Our people and land is poisoned. They’ve robbed our water for their fields, and all we have to drink is dirty, filthy water in our communities. They send us water—salty, and dirty water unfit for human consumption. They get to drink the sweet and good water.
Driscoll marks their products organic—organic blueberries, and organic strawberries. It’s false, it’s a lie. In those “organic” fields, we work 13 hours a day without a break. They will spray pesticides on us. It burns our backs. Children have gotten cancer and leukemia, arthritis in the bones that hurts, but when you go get healthcare, you lose a day’s work, a day’s pay. They don’t pay for disability. They just say you’re sick. If you twisted your foot, cut your hand, they write down you got sick, nothing more. They won’t pay anything when we are hurt on the job.
We are here fighting so Driscoll consumers know that when they buy these products they enrich multimillionaires profiting off of people dying in their farms. Driscoll owns everything. They buy water, our work, land to plant their products. The have child laborers hidden. When supervisors come, they hide them. The press comes here, and nothing happens. Everything is perfect, they say. For 13 hours work, people earn the equivalent of 30 or 40 dollars a week—120 pesos a day. We have no breaks.
It is especially hard on the mothers, the women. They rise at three or four in the morning to make lunch for their husbands and for their children, to make kids a little to eat and prepare their things for school. They leave for work at six and work until seven at night. Then they cook, wash clothes, clean, and go to bed at midnight or one am, to rise at three or four in the morning. With that routine you waste away. The single moms, they have double the work. They have to pay water, rent, electricity, and the things kids need.
This is not just in San Quintin, but IN states throughout Mexico. We are super-exploited. People can’t read or write. They want to study, but that dream is stolen. This is why we make alliances with people throughout Mexico and across other countries. We struggle. We will continue that struggle until a new generation grows up different. It can’t be the same as today. We deserve to not deserve this, to work for a low wage. Parents who’ve lived here their whole lives, they migrate north to feed their families, and now they are taking their children away. The government—they are living well. They have more money than they know what to do with. They take your money and our money. And just as there are fighters among us, there are fighters among you. La union hace la fuerza. [The union makes us strong). United, together, we will build the consciousness of the consumers of Driscoll produce.