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Indigenous people from Oaxaca have been migrating within Mexico and to the U.S. for decades. Many were braceros during that programs 22-year run from 1942 to 1964. In Mexican agricultural valleys from Sinaloa to Baja California, Oaxacan migrants are the backbone of the labor force that made corporate agriculture possible.
As a result, communities of Oaxacans have settled in a broad swath leading from their state of origin, through Veracruz, where they went first as the labor force in the sugar harvest, through northwest Mexicos fields of tomatoes and strawberries, into the valleys of Californias San Joaquin and Oregons Wilamette Rivers, and to Washington State, Florida, and beyond.
In Madera, California, restaurants bear Mixtec names. During meetings of Floridas Coalition of Immokalee Workers, people can be heard talking softly in the same language in the back of the room. Los Angeles furniture shops employ Zapotec-speaking workers, and Triqui-speakers are an important constituency in Oregons PCUN union for farm workers.
But despite this dispersal, the indigenous people of Oaxaca have found a way to unite, not just around language and their towns of origin, but their identity as indigenous Oaxacan migrants. As might be expected from the simultaneous existence of their communities on both sides of the border, one center of activity lies in Fresno and the other in Oaxaca. The organization at the heart is the the Frente Indigena Oaxaqueña Binacional, the Binational Indigenous Oaxacan Front, which began in 1987 at meetings in Californias central valley, Los Angeles, and San Diego. At its founding on October 5, 1991 it was called Frente Mixteco Zapoteco Binacional because the founders wanted to unite three Mixtec organizations and two among Zapotec immigrants. Soon the organization began looking for a strategy that would reflect the reality of Oaxacan communities.
While dispersed inside Mexico and the U.S. as a result of migrations from Oaxaca in search of work, the movement of people has created, in a sense, one larger community, located in different places simultaneously. Settlements of Mixtecs, Zapotecs, Triquis, and other Oaxacan indigenous groups along the 3,000-mile migrant stream from Oaxaca to the Pacific Northwest are bound together by shared culture and language, and by the social organizations people carry with them from place to place. Some of the organizations among Oaxacan migrants are based on common towns of origina not-uncommon phenomenon among immigrants to the U.S. from many countries. But Oaxa- cans have also developed the Frente, which unites different language groups in order to promote community and workplace struggles for social justice.
Among indigenous Oaxaqueños, we already have the concept of community and organization, says Frente director Rufino Dominguez. When people migrate from a community in Oaxaca, they already have a committee comprised of people from their home town. They are united and live very near one another. Its a tradition that we dont lose, wherever we go.
In 1984, as a young man, Dominguez left Oaxaca and migrated to Sinaloa, where he formed the Organizacion del Pueblo Explotado y Oprimido (Organization of Exploited and Oppressed People), and cooperated with leaders like Benito Garcia and organizations like the Independent Confederation of Farmers and Farm Workers (CIOAC) in strikes among the states farm- workers. Conditions for migrants in Sinaloa were the scandal of Mexico and the strikes put them into the public eye. We lived in labor camps made of steel sheets, remembers Jorge Giron, from the Mixtec town of Santa Maria Tindu. He now lives with his family in Fresno, but was a farm- worker in Sinaloa through those years.
During the hot season it was unbearable. In the morning we would huddle around the foreman and he would hand out buckets for the tomato harvest. Often they were irrigating, and we took off our shoes and went into the fields barefoot. In the early morning the water would be freezing and sometimes going in like that made you sick, but rubber boots were unknown to us. We would work from sunup to sundown. Even if we worked ten or eleven hours, we were paid the minimum. Camp owners ran company stores that sold food on credit. On Saturday we would get paid and then we would go pay our debt. As a single man, Giron slept in a room with 15 others.
Giron credits CIOAC for ending the worst aspects of their situation. They organized most of the strikes. They wanted workers rights to be respected, our salaries and jobs protected, better housing, running water, and transportation to and from work. And they did accomplish many of those things.
After organizing around conditions like these, Rufino Domin- guez followed the migrant trail further north across the Gulf of California, to San Quintin on the Baja California peninsula. I sent Benito a letter to come because there were many problems among our people there, Dominguez remembers. We were able to organize thousands of people. In San Quintin they mounted strikes as well. From there Dominguez crossed the border, winding up in Selma, California, just outside of Fresno. There he met farm-workers from his home state, who were also anxious to get organized.
I felt like I was in my town. There were people all over, very happy, greeting me. One of them said, Welcome compañero Rufino. Tell us, what is happening in our town? What did you do in Sinaloa and Baja California? What can you do to help us here? I was so new that I didnt even know where to look to see the sun rise. Even so, I began to explain how we organized in Sinaloa and Baja, and that we could create the same type of organization here.
The Frentes first foray into activity came in 1993, when it proposed to California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) that it create a staff position for an educator who would explain labor rights to Mixtec farm workers in the states central valley, in their own language. Dominguez was the first person hired for that job. The same year Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers, died in Arizona.
The Frente began a collaboration with his successor, the UFWs new president Arturo Rodriguez. The union organized a month-long peregrination from Delano to Sacramento, recapitulating its seminal march in 1967, to dramatize to California farm workers its renewed commitment to field organizing. The pact with the Frente had a similar aim for the unionto win support among a key group in the fields, the growing community of Mixtec- speaking migrants from Oaxaca.
We recognized that the UFW was a strong union representing agricultural workers, Dominguez explained. They in turn recognized us as an organization fighting for the rights for indigenous migrants. That campaign was historic for us, because the union finally recognized us in a formal way.
But it was an uneasy relationship and Mixtec activists felt that UFW members often exhibited the same discriminatory attitudes common among Mexicans back home towards indigenous people. Meanwhile, the nascent organization used the celebrations of the 500- year anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Colombus in the Americas as a platform to dramatize its call for indigenous rights.
When the Zapatista army rose on January 1, 1994, the Frente immediately mounted actions to pressure the Mexican government to refrain from using massive military force in Chiapas. From Fresno to Baja California to Oaxaca, Frente activists went on hunger strikes and demonstrated in front of consulates and government offices.
That binational movement helped us realize that when theres movement in Oaxaca theres got to be movement in the U.S. to make an impression on the Mexican government. That helped us grow immensely, Dominguez says. Soon the organization had to change its name. Triquis and other indigenous Oaxacan people wanted to participate, but felt the Frentes name excluded them. It became the Frente Indigena Oaxaqueña Binacional, the Indigenous Oaxa- can Binational Front. Its binational character grew even stronger.
In 1993 the Frente began serious organizing in Oaxaca. We began with various productive projects such as the planting of the Chinese pomegranate, the forajero cactus, and strawberries, Domin- guez explains, so that families of migrants in the U.S. would have an income to survive. Those efforts grew into five separate offices in the state and a membership base larger than that in the U.S., in more than 70 towns. In 1999, the Frente made an alliance with the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and elected one of its leaders, Romauldo Juan Gutierrez- Cortez, to the state Chamber of Deputies in District 21. For the first time we beat the caciques, Dominguez crows.
The Frentes organizing strategy is based on the culture of Oaxacan communities, particularly an institution called the tequio. This is the concept that we must participate in collective work to support our community, he explains. In our communities we already know one another and can act together. That understanding of mutual assistance makes it easier for us to organize ourselves. Wherever we go, we go united. Its a way of saying that I do not speak alonewe all speak together. We make efforts so that our communities dont lose their culture, their language, and their traditions.
In addition to advising workers on their labor rights, the Frente organizes communities in Californias rural areas. One of them is Malaga, a trailer park outside of Fresno, in which most people come from San Miguel Cuevas in Oaxaca. Residents discovered that the land under their homes had been contaminated for years by oil and toxic waste from Chevron and other oil companies. With the aid of CRLA, the Frente mounted a campaign, which won a million dollars from Chevron and seven million more from the other polluters, which was used to resettle the areas families. Some residents took cash, but others pooled their money and with the Frentes help, built new housing.
The organization has also begun to change the traditional domination of community political life by men. Oralia Maceda, a 26-year- old organizer from Oaxaca, came to Fresno to develop womens participation in the Frente. At the beginning men were the ones who would come to the organization. Before I started there were two other women that lasted no more than a month. But I believe it is womens responsibility to get involved and to find out how to participate. I use different tactics to get them to come, say, to a small party for Mothers Day, with small gifts and food. But its not really the party that gets their interest. Its letting them know how we can help them. Ill ask, who wants to become legal in this country? We talk about very basic problems like that. Really, it all starts with a small group of people.
Macedas presence is also a key to developing the participation of young people in the Frente. Given the strong pressure in the U.S. on children and teenagers to assimilate into the dominant consumerist lifestyle, maintaining the connection to home communities far away is very difficult. Winning the interest of youth in indigenous languages and cultural practices is even more so. Many Oaxacans are fanatical basketball players, and the Frente has used tournaments to attract young people and draw them into its activities.
Along with its bases in Oaxaca and California, FIOB also set up offices in Cañon Buenavista and San Quintin on the Baja California peninsula. Oaxacan migrants make up the bulk of the labor force in the states industrialized agriculture. Wages are very low, and whole families work in the fields as a result, including children. There is little housing on the peninsula, so land invasions and struggles to find a place to live are common.
But its been a very difficult experience, Dominguez says. In 2001, the organization had an internal division over the actions of one of its founders, Arturo Pimentel. Pimentel had been the director of the Frente in Oaxaca. He was accused by many members of not being accountable to them for the organizations finances and because he wanted to run for political office without a collective decision that he do so. At the FIOB Congress in Tijuana in December 2001, he was expelled.
In the national election of 2000, Celerino Chavez, Benitos brother, was the first Mixtec candidate in the states history for the national Chamber of Deputies, running for the PRD. Pimentel had been an active leader in many demonstrations and marches for housing and workers rights in Baja and many Frente leaders on the peninsula were his allies. Following the election, the conservative state government of the National Action Party manipulated the divisions in the PRD and the Frente and its political opposition in Baja California was weakened as a result.
Frente leaders like Dominguez are not overly optimistic about the new political environment under Vicente Fox, who was the candidate of the PAN. The political party changed, the name of the government changed, but the system continues to be the same, he says wearily.
The view of Vicente Fox is very attractive, very optimistic, and full of promises, but were not seeing anything done. He didnt defend the proposed indigenous rights law. [Human rights lawyer] Digna Ochoa was murdered in Mexico City. There is a lot of discourse, but no definite things like electricity, potable water, and productive projects in our communities. Nevertheless, the Frente is committed to its strategy combining workers rights, community organizing, and, in Mexico, electoral action. In the U.S., it advocates for the right of Mexican citizens to vote in Mexican elections.
The Frente should have an alliance with political parties without losing our identity and being dependent on politicians, Domin- guez says. We have to be autonomous in relation to political parties and create alliances to win these positions. Mexican electoral laws dont permit a social organization to run independent candidates. So we have to make an alliance, not with the PAN or the PRI, but with the PRD. Within the PRD there are a lot of divisions and internal problems, and they must resolve their internal conflicts. But its all we have.
David Bacon is a freelance writer and photographer. His book on the cross- border solidarity movement, The Children of NAFTA, is due out from University of California Press in 2003.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.