Two Mixtec migrant activists fromOaxaca,Mexico,Bernardo Ramírez Bautista and Centolia Maldonado Vázquez,captivated the room Tuesday afternoon with their knowledge and experience of the indigenous migrant worker situation.
The event was held fromnoonto2p.m.in the HIA Conference Room in5211Social Science and Humanities.
RamírezBautista andMaldonadoVázquez are two prominent members of FIOB –Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales,or the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations.Ramírez Bautista,the Mixteca region coordinator and legal advocacy program director,spoke onproblems with law enforcementand immigration issues.MaldonadoVázquez,a binational adviser,economic development director and district coordinator,spoke on the role of womenand FIOB’s community programs.
MaldonadoVázquez grew up a part of a family of migrants who wanted to stay where she was from,like many Mixtec,one of the largest ethnic groups inOaxaca and a significant portion of the indigenous migrant population.
There are570municipalities in the state ofOaxaca alone.The state is also home to20of the poorest50municipalities in all ofMexico.
The difference in indigenous workers,said Stefano Varese,a professor of within the department of Native American Studies,is that they don’t want to be the traditional “immigrants.“
“They don’t want to come here andstay here.Their goal is to earn money and send it home and return to their place,because they have a legal entitlement to have a place in their own community,” he said.
RamírezBaustista‘srole in FIOB is to help with getting migrant workers oriented upon reaching theUnited States.
“They get here and they don’t even know the basics.One thing we emphasize is to always be respectful and know that we have to act in absolute accordance with the law,” he said through a translator.
Ramírez Bautista noted that inMexico,justiceisonly enforced when it is within the interest of those enforcing it.Citing an example for his bold statement,he said a law was made to recognize indigenous groups inOaxaca.
“But the reality is that inOaxaca there is more racial discrimination,violation of human rights and agrarian conflict than anywhere else.Power and money control the justice,and this is where we interfere as lawyers,” he said.
MaldonadoVázquez can remember there being a high level of migration in her community since she was2years old and blames the economic system for causing disorientation of the family.
“People are just barely surviving,and the men are always away.For generations,kids have been taught to help at home,and they’re not interested in school because they feel like they can just go north some day,” she said,also through a translator.
One program of FIOB’s that MaldonadoVázquez is involved with encourages saving funds little by little.
“Saving what someone would spend on a Coke,15-20pesos a month,could eventually build up enough credit to open a small business,” she said through translation.
FIOB does its best to replenish the gap in family by strengthening the sense of community.One of their programs emphasizes learning from farmer to farmer,encouraging market competitors to share techniques to cope with bad soil and collaborating to find ways to limit pollution.
Without men around,women also step into decision-making roles,Maldonado Vázquezsaid.
“They get to make health and school decisions at community meetings where they have their voices heard and become confident and proud of their social standing,” she said.
MaldonadoVázquez attributes many problems on the national scale to NAFTA,the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Before NAFTA,she said,basic foods were produced inMexico,land was secure,land was fertile and corn easilygrown,water was abundant and clean,the craft market was good and the government controlled market prices.
NAFTA had a negative impact on all of those things,Maldonado Vázquez said.Food is no longer automatically there,land is for sale and leads to conflicts,the bad farming ground has led to the loss of native seeds,water is contaminated,less local goods are soldand market prices are always fluctuating based on the price of imports.
MaldonadoVázquezadded thatthe government doesn’t ask,just funds the process– which is bad because people will buy from elsewhere and not consider the consequences.
“NAFTA is not for the benefit ofMexico.With the water undrinkable,everywhere you go you get a choice of beer or soda.But if the water is bad,where do Coke and Pepsi get theirs?” she said.Coke and Pepsi are funded separately from the Mexican government.
The government is also responsible for some political corruption,Ramírez Bautistasaid.
“There is a federal institute in charge of the vote,some ballots from the northern part ofMexico still haven’t been counted and people wonder that it is rigged,” he said through translation.
Butthe law says that it takes a51percent vote from the House of Representatives to force a trial and potential overthrow of a leader,which is impossible without any proof of President Felipe Calderon’s wrongdoing,Ramírez Bautistasaid.
As to the status of the approximately12million undocumented workers currently in theUnited States,Ramírez Baustista said they must be legalized as soon as possible,because more can’t be sent until the existing ones are legalized.
“It’s convenient for theU.S.to legalize them– think how much money gets sent toMexico by not,” he said.
By not legalizing migrants,only corporations win,he explained.
“People go to theU.S.,send their money back,people save a little but then they spend the rest on things from big multinational corporations,” he said.
Both expressed optimism over FIOB.
“We need people with skills in many different areas,and we know it is going to be a slow,long,process,but we are convinced it is worth it,” MaldonadoVázquez said.
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.