Academic journal article Human Organization

Cultural Citizenship and Labor Rights for Oregon Farmworkers: The Case of Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Nordoeste (PCUN)

Academic journal article Human Organization

Cultural Citizenship and Labor Rights for Oregon Farmworkers: The Case of Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Nordoeste (PCUN)

Article excerpt

This article uses the story of Oregon's only farmworker union, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), and worker testimonies to illustrate how cultural citizenship has been created for some farmworkers through grassroots organizing around immigration, cultural, and labor issues. The notion of "cultural citizenship" offers anthropologists a model for understanding how Mexican migrants in the U.S. can be recognized as legitimate political subjects claiming rights for themselves and their children based on their economic and cultural contributions regardless of their official legal status. Cultural citizenship is an alternative concept to "legal citizenship," which labels undocumented migrants in the U.S. as "illegal aliens," and is a way of reaffirming the contributions of Mexican migrants outside the framework of U.S. immigration law.

Key words: labor rights, cultural citizenship, farmworkers, Mexican immigrants, Oregon

It is late October and the harvest season is over for the year in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The afternoon sun is low, and outside several units of manufactured housing stuffed with bunkbeds and clothes about 15 men are hanging around. Some work on the engine of a 1989 Dodge van that will soon make the trip back to the small village they came from in Michoacan, Mexico. Four men shoot hoops at a basketball net suspended in the middle of a concrete patio next to some hothouses for produce, their only audience a line of three blue portajohns. Others smoke and talk. The rainy season has begun and the area is starting to turn to mud. Off to one side a gray-haired man in tennis shoes, brown pants, and a button-down shirt open at the top sits on an old tire and looks at the sinking sun, slowly blowing smoke out in curls through his mouth.

I came to this labor camp with my students and Leonides Avila (not a pseudonym), a Mixtec organizer and farmworker who worked for Oregon's only farmworker union, PCUN, or Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United). My students and I have been working with PCUN since 1998 to document the history of Mexican immigration and farmworker organizing in Oregon, to highlight the experiences of Mexican farmworkers in the state, and to create tools for public education around farmworker labor rights and housing conditions, the economic and cultural contributions of Mexican immigrant workers, and racism against farmworkers. The research has been driven by a model I call collaborative, activist ethnography, which I discuss below.

The older man sitting on the tire was Don Francisco.' We begin to talk as the air got cooler and the sun drooped ever lower. He first came to the United States as a part of the Bracero Program (1942-1964),2 often working more than one contract per year.

Lynn: When did you first come here?

Francisco: I first came here in 1958. 1 was contracted 12 times under the Bracero Program. I was 18 years old when I first came. In 1958, they only paid us 75 cents per hour.... I worked in Texas, California, and Arizona as a Bracero.

Lynn: Did you stop coming when the Bracero Program ended?

Francisco: Well, I stopped coming for three or four years, but then I came as what they called a mojado (undocumented).3 I went back to work in Texas, Arizona, and California where I was contracted before.

Lynn: When did the other men (referring to those hanging around) begin to come here? How many came?

Francisco: Well, at first only three or four came, then a few more. These men returned and brought others and now there are about 40 to 50 people who come to this camp.... Right now there are about 15 people here from my community. Two of them have papers (are legal).

Lynn: Do you know when they started to come here?

Francisco (shouting to others): Hey, when did you all first come here?

One man shouting: Twenty years ago.

Another: I came about 15 years ago. …

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