From the November-December 2015 issue of News & Letters
Editor’s Note: Agricultural workers in the San Quintín area of Baja California have been waging a struggle for decent wages and working conditions. They organized a work stoppage and have forced the growers and state government to bargain. Women are integral to the struggle. Below we print excerpts of an interview with agricultural worker Lucila Fernandez obtained by our sister journal Praxis en America Latina (www.praxisenamericalatina.org).
San Quintín, Baja California—I am 36 years old, and originally from Oaxaca. I am Mixtec and came to the San Quintín Valley in 1990 as a child laborer at the age of 11. I spent many years living in the labor camps of San Quintín. I married and started a family.
I became an activist in the community of Santa Maria los Pinos, which was formed in 2003. I had lived in another community, named Triqui after the Triqui people, who are used to fighting for what they want.
When we arrived here we found there were no schools. So all the mothers gathered and started to fight. From the first day the mothers invited me I wanted to join. It was a very difficult fight in a community that was enclosed in a wire mesh fence with guards. We asked: Why could the agricultural enterprise decide when we could come into our community, our houses, and when we could leave? We began to fight not only to have schools, but to have our rights.
The struggle took three years, including the imprisonment of several compañeros. There were detentions almost every day. It was a struggle for a single school, but for us our children are a priority.
We were faced with a government that did not represent us, that supported the decisions that the company imposed upon us. But we said we must have a school. We took land and created a school. The government Institute for Development and Housing then issued an arrest warrant for me. But the struggle continued—mostly women—and now this small community has an elementary school, a kindergarten and a secondary school.
In the years since, I have been involved in issues such as health and violence. I joined with fellow workers who went on strike for wages and decent working conditions. Many women have participated in this struggle, yet often we are not seen or mentioned. But here we are, and we are walking together with the men.
My motto is to bring forth the voice and the needs of women. The struggle is not alone a question of labor rights and law, but also the needs of women. When we talk about women, we are talking about the whole family. When women are together we talk about what hurts and affects us and realize that we suffer the same difficulties: our needs, our exclusion. Bringing the voice of women and the needs of women is not only about labor law, but as well the need for women to have timely and guaranteed healthcare.
There have been advances, though not great ones. There is more inclusion of women. We do not want to be the same as the men, but we want respect for our rights. Most important is that people turn to San Quintín and we can say, “The workers are here, we live as agricultural workers and we demand our rights.” A wage can take away our hunger, but our rights are also a matter of everyday life. Women must be heard—all the workers must be seen and heard. Yes, a decent salary, but all our everyday social demands are part of life.