October 1995, Volume 1, Number 4
Mixtec Farm Workers
There are an estimated 50,000 Mixtec farm workers from the
southern Mexican state of Oaxaca employed sometime during a typical
year in California agriculture.
Mixtecs reportedly suffer discrimination in both Mexico and the
US. In Mexico, they suffer because they do not speak Spanish, and
because their religion mixes both Christianity and Indian mysticism.
In the US, as the most recent and vulnerable workers, Mixtecs are
more likely than other farm workers to be underpaid while working,
and overcharged for housing and rides to work.
Mixtecs, for example, were most of the workers employed on the
Ives flower ranch in Ventura county during the late 1980s when Ives
was charged with holding them in peonage. Ives paid $1.5 million in
back wages and fines to 200 former workers.
Mixtecs are an estimated 70 percent of the 10,000 farm workers in
San Diego county, and are spreading northward, to Oxnard, Santa
Maria, and Madera in California, and north Oregon and Washington.
Working along side the Mixtecs are often Zapotec and Mayan Indians.
In Arizona, reportedly 10 percent of the farm labor force of
nearly 20,000 are indigenous workers from southern Mexico and Central
America. Many of the indigenous workers get their first US jobs in
Arizona, then move on to California or to the East Coast.
According to one grower representative, there is a "hierarchy in
the farm [worker] community... as soon as one generation puts
its children through school, another...moves in ... to take its place
in the fields."
Despite their poverty, the presence of teachers and artists among
Mixtec migrants reportedly has enabled them to organize increasingly
effective organizations that seek to protect the rights of Mixtecs to
bilingual education and legal aid.
The UC division of Agriculture and Natural Resources has produced
films on the Mixtecs-- "Invisible Indians; Mixtec Farmworkers in
California," and "Teach Traditions: Maestros of Mixtec Culture."
Homero Aridjis, "For the Indigenous Poor, all roads Lead to Mexico
City," Sacramento Bee, October 1, 1995. Ben Winton, "Labor movement:
Latin American Indians Work Fields in Arizona," Phoenix Gazette,
September 5, 1995. Lanny Larson, "The Shy, Hard-working and
'invisible' Mixtecos," Fresno Bee, August 30, 1995. Fred Alvarez,
"The Mixtecs: Grim Life in the Fields," Los Angeles Times, July 27,