by Sayil Camacho, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University; and Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, Project Director, UCLA Labor Center
The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) contracted with the UCLA Labor Center to evaluate the LWDA’s educational resources on workplace rights and health and safety for California farmworkers. The goal was to ensure that those resources were accessible to Mexican immigrant and Indigenous populations who may have limited or no English or Spanish literacy.
Most California farmworkers are Mexican immigrants (68%), and a third of those are Indigenous. They are multi-ethnic and multilingual; Spanish is not their first language, and they are more likely to be fluent in Mixteco, Zapoteco, Triqui, or Mayan. The Labor Center developed an evaluation system that allowed us to assess the literacy levels, language barriers, and accessibility of LWDA educational resources to identify the communication barriers that made Mexican immigrants and Indigenous people more vulnerable at work. In addition, we presented LWDA with a series of recommendations guided by the lived experiences of Mexican immigrants and Indigenous people: (1) support workplace rights and access to health and safety information; (2) build coalition-based support within the workforce and in collaboration with community advocacy groups; and (3) translate educational resources into oral-based languages.
Our goal was to understand why Indigenous farmworkers experience higher levels of poverty and more discrimination within and outside of the workplace and how those experiences create communication barriers. More specifically, we sought to understand the ways that power functions to disenfranchise Indigenous people politically, socially, and economically and exacerbates linguistic and cultural barriers. The examination of power within communication is referred to as a “structural humility” approach, which obliges researchers to recognize and affirm the human dignity of immigrant and Indigenous people. Our research challenged standard cross-cultural competency methods by operationalizing Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and critical race theory.
Using a structural humility approach grounded in the lived experiences of Indigenous migrant workers, we were able to identify the forces that determine workplace vulnerabilities, the shift in attitude required by the LWDA to reduce the number of worker rights violations and on-the-job injuries and deaths, and the practices needed to make LWDA’s educational materials truly accessible.
The process of creating academic knowledge has historically failed to center the experiences and voices of Indigenous peoples or break down the hierarchy of knowledge production between researchers, organizations, stakeholders, and historically marginalized populations. Collaborative research must do the extra work to identify the structures that separate academics from community collaborators and research participants. As the Zapotec intellectual Odilia Romero explained, “Bene shtill shla gune ratgr gushalgshu disha chego concha bi gat disha checho da bguan bene gurase checho, le kate gat disha cha, ka na gat neda [White people have to open the path and talk to us so that our word will not die, because when my word dies, I will die too].”
Access the full article “Lost in Translation ‘en el Fil’: Actualizing Structural Humility for Indigenous Mexican Farmworkers in California” HERE.
Sayil Camacho (PhD, University of California, Los Angeles) is the inaugural director of the master’s in leading organizations program in the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests aim to actualize transformative reform for oppressed and repressed populations.
Gaspar Rivera‑Salgado (PhD, University of California, Santa Cruz) is a project director at the UCLA Labor Center, where he teaches classes on work, labor, and social justice in the United States, and immigration issues.