#7 My Pitch for equality

In Vermont, everything is dairy. You can’t go 10 miles without seeing one of those seemingly never-ending cornfields or the spotted cows that grace our pastures. Everything appears simple, and maybe it is…until we look deeper at the conditions faced by the backbone of our agriculture industry, the Mexican migrant farm workers.

In an interview published by VPR last May, Mexican migrant worker Enrique Balcazar states, “There are many problems that our community faces… We are excluded from the Vermont minimum wage; there are also long work hours. You work, you get up at maybe 2 or 3 a.m., work 12 or 13 hours a day and maybe don’t have a day off, only to return to housing that is not dignified or quality housing.”

Not surprisingly, with minimal bargaining power, migrants earn very little money. Their average income is between $10,000 and $12,500 (the poverty line is set at $11,880 for an individual). When you compare this number to Vermont’s per capita income of about $30,000, the disparity becomes evident.

Furthermore, some migrants live in horrible conditions. They are cramped into a small space with other farm workers and in many cases, their living quarters would be deemed unsanitary if they were to be inspected. As of now, there are no formal inspection laws in place so it is rare that unsafe living situations are corrected.

Also, many work unreasonable hours. They have to wake up early in the morning and they go to bed late at night. They can work upwards of 13 hours and only get paid for a normal eight hour day. If these workers were Vermonters, there’s little chance that they would be forced to work such long hours without overtime.

Lastly, their isolation is unfortunate for both Vermonters and the migrant workers. They are afraid to leave the safety of their farm in fear of deportation. This fear, although rational, needs to be conquered to enrich their lives here in Vermont while creating a more diverse community for the rest of us.

Yes, all of this sounds good, you may be thinking to yourself, but how do you plan on highlighting these injustices?  Well, my idea is to create a reenactment of the routine traffic stop that changed Lorenzo Alcudia’s life forever. While riding shotgun with a UVM student, he was socially profiled, detained and then forced into a deportation hearing.

This reenactment is important because it is a simple and effective way to shed light on a situation and raise awareness of social injustice. I am inspired by the 1988 release of a film called, “The Thin Blue Line”  which told the story of a man convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. After critical acclaim for the documentary, his case was reviewed, and he was released from prison. Although I don’t expect a total change in our perspective towards Mexican farm workers and how we treat them, I would like to raise awareness of the social injustices they face in our own backyards and showcase their invaluable contribution to the Vermont community. So, if you believe in social justice and doing what is right, join me in the fight for freedom and justice for the Mexican migrant workers.

Here is the link to my Presentation


Featured Image by John Stills

Justin Holmes

One Response to “#7 My Pitch for equality

  • Hi Justin,

    After reading through your posts, I notice a real passion for the issue you are researching which is key to this whole process. To be honest, I really don’t know anything at all about migrant workers in Vermont. One way you could begin to tackle this complex issue is by informing Vermont citizens about it.

    Great work!

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