Nántsi'i pandémia yó'o kù'ìn châjǎn sachi kǒ ti mií va chuun yó'o, yé xíka ndá'vi va ké –Otilia Flores ("When the pandemic is over I plan to go there —to the North of Mexico— because here there is no work, we are migrants", in Mixteco)
This is a story of migration, the story of thousands of people moving in and out of their country of origin, the story of people whose rural poverty, food insecurity, inequality, unemployment, lack of social protection, in addition to the depletion of natural resources, have forced them to leave their homes and seek new opportunities.
This is the story of Beatriz Vazquez, a woman who has lived migration very closely. When she was only 7 years old, she and her family migrated to Culiacán, Sinaloa to work in the tomato fields, where, using small buckets, she began to help in the harvesting. This is also the story of Otilia Flores, another migrant woman and day laborer who migrated to the north of the country. The lack of work in her birthplace has forced her to seek new paths. Otilia first migrated 39 years ago to work in weeding fields when she was 10 years old.
Both come from the municipality of San Martín Peras, a community located in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca with a population of almost 12,500 people and a very high level of marginalization. This is a territory where paid work is scarce and, due to existing gender inequalities, women have fewer job opportunities, only 12.5% being economically active.
The states where agricultural day laborers migrate to vary according to the agricultural cycles: in the case of Otilia Flores, the period in which she normally migrates is from September to April, working in tomato, chili, cucumber, eggplant and grape crops in Hermosillo, Sinaloa; however, the high temperatures in this state often force her to go to places with more temperate climates, so she migrates to Mexicali, in the state of Baja California, to work in watermelon, melon, and onion fields. After her work in the north of the country, Otilia decides to return to her community, a time that coincides with the planting period of corn and beans —crops that depend on rainfall; however, her cornfield is only enough for the family's own consumption.
The municipality of Ensenada, Baja California was the place Beatriz Vázquez had to move to when she was 8 years old. Working in the carrot, tomato, and pea fields was a way for her and her family to earn money. They lived in overcrowded cuarterías —small housing units. The low family income also forced her to wander around the tourist area of this municipality begging for a coin from national and foreign tourists.
As for many migrants, the proximity and the search for better job opportunities when crossing into the United States is only a possibility; for some others, it is the final destination of migration. Beatriz, at 13 years old, risked her life and crossed the border to go to work in the strawberry fields in Oxnard, California, where she worked for 5 years.
During migration to the northern states, it is common for agricultural day laborers to travel with their children, spouses, and sometimes the elderly. In Otilia's case, as she has had more daughters and sons, it has been increasingly difficult for take them with her; therefore, she leaves them back in her community in the care of her mother and father. "When I leave, I suffer because I cannot see them. It is difficult for them, as it is for me. I leave with sadness; but if I take them with me, they’ll suffer even more because they’ll sit alone while we work; there are no daycare centers and, if there are, children are not properly taken care; nutrition there is also poor".
The lack of social protection coverage for agricultural day laborers implies the absence of care spaces for their children, healthy food, health services, adequate housing, and labor benefits, among others.
"I came back because I am a single mother and the nanny who took care of my daughter did not take good care of her; I found her with bruises or with swollen hands, and they did not change her diapers," said Beatriz Vázquez.
The Community Call
Recently, in San Martin Peras, women were included in municipal government positions as part of the gender parity efforts between men and women in the exercise of their rights to vote and be voted for. This is the case of Otilia Flores and Beatriz Vázquez, who are currently serving as alternate councilwoman for health and councilwoman for roads and transportation, respectively.
Currently, both women are in the Oaxacan Mixteca covering the positions their community appointed them to. For them, this represents a responsibility and a social obligation they have towards their people, but it also limits their opportunity to join the agricultural work in the north of the country to earn money and cover the needs of their families.
Having migrated since childhood allowed them to learn Spanish, in addition to their native language, Mixteco; therefore, Otilia and Beatriz have served as interpreters between Mixteco speakers and public servants who implement some government social assistance program; unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic and the recommended social distancing, stopped this activity, further reducing their income.
In Mexico, there are approximately 323,000 women day laborers. Between 30 and 40% of this population is made up of migrants who travel with their families, making an estimated 5.9 million people including their families. It is also estimated that 24% of this population are indigenous people.The lack of social protection for this sector of the population places them in a situation of social and economic vulnerability. For this reason, the Mexican government and the state governments of Jalisco and Oaxaca have requested technical support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Mexico to promote a social protection plan and strategy tailored to the needs of female agricultural day laborers in Oaxaca and Jalisco that addresses gender equality and health, education, and labor rights, with the fundamental principle of leaving no one behind.