Migrant workers grow here too

GVSU celebrates Cesar Chavez with campus-wide food, clothing drive for migrant families

By Peter Chhum | 3/19/14 6:32pm

Farming is one of the largest industries in Michigan. Transforming a seed to an apple pie or zucchini bread requires labor, though. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of migrant workers.

Michigan currently holds the sixth largest population of migrant farm workers, with an estimated total of 24,730 seasonal workers in West Michigan alone.

During the week of March 24, Grand Valley State University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs will be promoting an ongoing food and clothing drive at GVSU to benefit these migrant workers and their families. The event is a part of the César E. Chávez Commemorative Week, which will feature a series of events to actively pay homage to his legacy.

Chávez was a Mexican-American laborer and civil rights activist who notably used non-violent methods to fight for the rights of migrant farm workers in the southwestern U.S.

In the process, Chávez founded the National Farm Workers Association — an advocacy group that campaigned to provide increased wages and improve the working conditions for farm workers through a series of strikes and boycotts. The group later became the United Farmworkers of America.

“I wanted to do a comprehensive program that touched on the legacy of César Chávez, not just talking about his life and his contributions, but also finding ways for students to be engaged,” said Allison Roman, assistant director of OMA and the coordinator of the event. “I think people are surprised that there are migrant farm workers in the area, and I just wanted to shine the light to show that there are people who work to provide these things for us. Fruits and vegetables don’t just magically land on your plate.”

Roman has worked closely with the InterCare Community Health Network, a community-governed health center that provides outreach for migrant farm workers. The center will supply families with the products that are received from the food and clothing drive. InterCare currently provides primary medical and dental care and other services to the seasonal farmworker population in southwestern and western Michigan.

“The major difficulties these workers face include the language barrier, transportation and availability to attend to medical needs. Many of the families also have children and have a hard time finding childcare,” said Christian Garcia, the migrant health manager at InterCare. “Many migrant families coming to Michigan have limited resources available upon arrival. Food and clothing become essential needs to these families, especially because many don’t receive income for a few weeks — sometimes up to a month.”

The César Chávez Commemorative Week will also include a teach-in about the life and legacy of César Chávez, a screening of the new César Chávez film, and a mock demonstration of a United Farm Workers strike.

“Although it would be impossible to replicate the atmosphere and environment of what a United Farm Workers strike was, we as students will be doing our best to mirror what it would look like,” said Veronica Beltran, the president of Advocates for Immigration Reform, a campus organization intended to create awareness around present day immigration issues. “I believe that this is a great part of his commemorative week, because it was through the unity and strength of strikers, the power of organizing and the powerful large demonstrations that helped the ‘huelga’ (strike) be successful.”

The clothing and food drive will be ongoing until March 28 with all of the donations going toward the migrant farmer camp in Holland. OMA is encouraging students to contribute items they are no longer using to the drive, and it is accepting clothing, non-perishable food items and toys.

For more information, visit www.gvsu.edu/oma.

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