Anna Vilches: Already we have met so many workers that are demanding change
“Soy lo que dejaron. Soy toda los sobra de lo que se robaron…mano de obra campesina para tu consumo…el sol que nace y el dia que muere con los mejores atardeceres…Soy America latina, un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina”
The song, “Latinoamerica” by Calle 13 plays in my head as we head out from the office and toward the worker camps. Every time we are out on the road I can’t help but think about all the people that we have spoken to and all the people that we will speak to in the upcoming days. I still can’t decide what it was that compelled me to come to North Carolina to be a part of the FLOC campaign. Whatever it was, I’m grateful for that energy that pulled me all the way from Southern Cali to the Southern U.S.
These past two weeks have flown by and I have already become close friends with three amazing mujeres. It’s important to have a good support system when you are far away from home and embarking on an amazing yet arduous campaign like this. First there’s Julia who has been so welcoming, even sharing her home cooked meals during lunchtime. But perhaps the most important thing she has shared with me is her own experience as a farmworker. I am happy to call her my team leader because even though she is only 17 years old she has so much wisdom. Another awesome friend that I have made is Patsy. You wouldn’t believe she is only 22 years old. She is truly an inspiration for what it means to be a strong woman. And of course, Julie who is one of the bravest people I know. I definitely would not have had the guts to come on this adventure all on my own.
I have had some very good days with my team and some days that have not been so awesome. Already we have met so many workers that are demanding change. As we speak to them we begin to understand that most of them know just how bad they are being treated and that they are workers who deserve dignity, respect and recognition for the hard work they do every day. The most common demand that workers ask for are higher wages. In North Carolina, minimum wage is $7.25 which is what undocumented workers and workers without a H-2A Visa usually make. Those who do come with a H-2A contract should be making a minimum of $9.87 an hour. Yet, the workers we have spoken to agree that these wages are not appropriate for the amount of work they do.
There have been other problems that have been mentioned. For example, at one of the camps we recently visited, the workers said they do not have access to bathrooms out in the fields while they work. I’m sure if more people knew about these conditions they would be shocked to find out that this is the way workers are treated in this country, particularly workers who help put food on our tables.
I realize now that the reason I am here is to educate myself. By doing so, I hope to educate others along the way. Just like Calle 13’s song says, “Soy America latina, un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina.” Despite the fact that we don’t have the money or resources to continue, interns and workers alike continue to fight for justice because we know that it is the right thing to do. Farmworkers are here in this country working hard to make a decent living for themselves and their families. Every worker, no matter race, nationality or legal status should be respected and compensated justly for their work.