The ninth annual Farmworker Awareness Week (FAW) kicked off virtually on March 28, with each day addressing a new facet of farmworker history and the impacts of the pandemic. UNM CAMPerinos used this week to honor the essential contributions of farmworkers and highlight the injustices they face.
CAMPerinos serves students with migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds at UNM by providing mentorship, community engagement opportunities and support.
Farmworker Awareness Week was hosted on Facebook for the second consecutive year due to the ban on in-person gatherings. The online event consisted of a series of social media posts which featured infographics, student farmworker testimonials and information on historical figures in the farmworker rights movement.
According to Diego Salcido Morales, the event’s coordinator for CAMPerinos, the overall theme this year was “Essential and Resilient,” a nod to the work and conditions farmworkers across the globe experience while supplying food during the pandemic.
UNM College Assistant Migrant Program (CAMP) Director Ivan Olay said students want to spread awareness of what injustices farmworkers experience and how to help.
“There’s a lack of awareness for farmworkers,” Olay said. “They are one of the most marginalized groups.”
On March 28, the theme was “Día del Estudiante Campesino,” which focused on recognizing student farmworkers at UNM and their contributions to the Lobo Pack.
Paloma Munoz-Neri, a student farmworker and senior peer leader at UNM CAMP, said living in rural agricultural communities with restricted internet access illustrates the barriers and complexities of the online learning format during the pandemic.
“During the summer of 2020, with almost no work options available in New Mexico, I moved to California to work in any agricultural-related job available, knowing that farmers and farmworkers never stop working,” Brenda Ramos Villanueva, a student farmworker and CAMPerinos member, said. “If I could define resilience as a person it would be farmworkers. Regardless of the pandemic being at its peak in California, no one gave up. With the decrease of active farmworkers, spread of wildfires and the pandemic, farmworkers worked longer hours with the risk of exposing their loved ones.”
The March 29 theme was “‘Día de la Mujer Campesina,” dedicated to the resilience of female farmworkers.
For many female farmworkers, childcare isn't an expense families can afford, Madai Cisneros, student farmworker and member of UNM CAMPerinos, said.
“From my personal experience, I was one of the many, many children that are taken to work on the fields from a very young age because their parents couldn’t afford a babysitter,” Cisneros said.
“A lot of women put bandanas around their faces to hide that they are women,” Munoz-Neri said.
Munoz-Neri said it’s common for female farmworkers to obscure their gender identity out of fear of sexual harassment and retailiation if they speak out.
“They may lose their jobs, can get killed, face threats of deportation, and then families come into play,” Morales said.
On March 30, the theme was “Día del Movimiento,” and reflected on the history of the farmworker movement. Posts highlighted the inception of the United Farm Workers labor union and farmworker contributions throughout the pandemic.
“There’s a difference between a farmer and a farmworker. Farmers own the land and profit from the land, are in charge and make business decisions. It’s a point of privilege,” Olay said. “(Farmers) work hard but farmworkers are in the dirt, women suffer a lot from sexual assault, farmerworkers don’t get childcare and bring their kids to work. They can’t get hurt, they don’t have healthcare. Farmers may have that privilege.”
“They’re feeding the world, regardless of what’s going on,” Morales said.
On March 31, Cesar Chavez’s birthday and the last day of National Farmworker Awareness week, the event reflected on the past, present and future struggles and injustices endured by farmworkers.
“To me, it’s bringing that awareness to people who aren’t aware or don’t care — to teach people,” Olay said. “Farmworkers don’t get paid minimum wage, they don’t get workers’ compensation. There’s all these loopholes to get someone to work more and work longer. They are the hardest workers.”
CAMP and CAMPerinos work year-round to support students with seasonal and full-time farming backgrounds. CAMPerinos specifically provides "guidance, support, and volunteering opportunities" for UNM students, especially those that are migrants and/or seasonal farmworkers, according to its Facebook page.
According to Olay, because CAMP is a federally-funded program and only accessible to U.S. citizens, CAMPerinos is better equipped to support undocumented students.
“We never turn anyone away regardless of their immigration status. Even if we don’t have the resources, specifically, we will look for the resources for them,” Munoz-Neri said. “We’ll help them look for scholarships. A lot of scholarships do look for proof of citizenship. Maybe they’re looking for a place to live but don’t have a social security number. We can help them find somewhere. Or we help them build community.”
Rebecca Hobart is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo