Today is Cesar Chavez and National Farmworker Day. This recognition has been earned through years of civil rights activism and advocacy, and yet the struggles faced by our farmworkers persist. As we commemorate let’s also remember that a day is not enough, and Chavez’s legacy is best celebrated through action.
In 1985, my parents had little more than their hopes and dreams as they made their way to the United States looking for work in the vineyards of Sonoma County, California. Growing up, I had no idea the impact a simple act of legislation had had on our lives, but the immigration reforms passed in the mid-1980s allowed my parents to gain lawful status in the United States and root themselves as part of this country. It was also a monumental win that recognized the value that farm workers had in the economy with an estimated 3 million individuals receiving the opportunity to change the trajectory of their lives – my parents’ lives and my own included.
Today, the economic impact of our undocumented farmworkers is estimated to be $9 billion of the agricultural industry in this country. This power and strength was especially felt through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as farmworkers served fiercely as some of the most essential frontline workers.
Yet despite the critical role farmworkers continue to play, state and federal policies reflect an attitude that treats them as disposable.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Dolores Huerta in person (talk about coming full circle) and hearing her speak about “People Power.” As a champion of our Latino community, she reminds us of the power we hold to create our own policies and be our own agents of change.
Latinos contribute more than 2.7 trillion dollars to the US economy. We start new businesses at a higher rate than any other demographic, and our purchasing power is more than $1.7 trillion. As a critical engine to the US economy, it is time that we play a central role in creating an inclusive economy that reflects our contributions. One that centers safety, fair compensation, and the possibility of business ownership.
What would an inclusive economy that values their contribution and resiliency look like?
It would include prioritizing safety and respect during natural disasters as North Bay Jobs with Justice underscores in their 5 priorities for Farmworkers in Fires Petition. We cannot continue to ask farmworkers to put their lives on the line without due compensation and safety measures. No other job sector would allow this to be possible, so why is it happening to our farmworker families?
It would celebrate policies that allow their bodies to rest and recover without fear of losing their job. The Safety Net for All Coalition’s AB2847 Campaign provides a clear outline for such policies, calling for unemployment benefits for excluded immigrant workers. This bill highlights the $3.2 billion that undocumented workers contribute to local taxes and unemployment insurance funds to which they do not have access to.
It would create a path for farmworkers to become farm owners, harvesting their knowledge and labor in ways that would create generational wealth. Through organizations like Kitchen Table Advisors (KTA), farmworkers are given business knowledge to complement their knowledge of land. It inspires them to become entrepreneurs and recognizes the dignity of working the land.
These are tangible opportunities to continue building a just economy that centers people. As we build back from this pandemic, we must ensure that our farmworker family is not forgotten.
We can change this. We can create a just economy that centers our farmworkers, our entrepreneurs, and our small businesses. We can and we must.
Veronica Vences is the Entrepreneurship Director, helping to lead the Latino Community Foundation’s Economic Justice initiative that is set to advance economic mobility and prosperity among Latino families.