New campaign highlights stories from members of the migrant community providing our holiday dinners

Do you know who stocks the fruit and vegetable section of your grocery store? The name of the person selling the food at your favorite corner?

Beyond the disembodied idea of ​​’hands that feed us’, migrant rights advocates challenge people to look beyond work and learn about food workers on the ground through a new national artistic project entitled The humans who feed us.

The project will be available both online and in 35 restaurants and 10 college cafeterias across the country, but those numbers are expected to rise as the campaign continues. It features the portraits and biographies of 20 people who work in various capacities along the food chain (from harvesting produce on farms to cooking and serving in gourmet restaurants), translating their stories (all of which are featured). in Spanish and English), share their hopes and dreams, and humanize food production by highlighting the people who do the work.

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It’s also a timely campaign as Congress continues to debate the details of President Joe Biden’s proposal Rebuild Better Act, which could provide billions of dollars for immigration reform to create pathways to citizenship and protect temporary workers. Discussions are should continue until Christmas at least.

The Humans Who Feed Us was designed by Latinx activist and organizer Mónica Ramírez and her team from the Migrant Advocacy Group Justice for migrant women. Ramírez has had a long career organizing for migrant farm workers and advocating against gender-based violence, even inspiring the first Time’s Up movement, which advocates ending gender-based assault and discrimination in the workplace. . She is also a co-founder of The Latinx House, an organization that supports Latinx artists, local organizers and other community leaders, and was featured as an “Emerging Leader” in 2021 by TIME magazine.

The Humans Who Feed Us is developing a project launched by Ramírez in August after receiving a grant from the Butterfly Lab for the Immigrant Narrative Strategy, which was founded by a racial justice organization Race forward to support the work of pro-immigrant leaders.

“People talk about the hands that nourish us, and that has always bothered me. Essentially, that says the only thing that matters isn’t even the people – it’s the function,” Ramírez explained. “The people who do the work to feed us, whether in agriculture or in grocery stores, are more than their hands. They are more than their job. To this end, Ramírez avoids calling the people highlighted in these projects simply “workers”. Instead, for her and hopefully everyone else who engages with The Humans Who Feed Us, they’re community members.

Martin’s story reminds us that migrant labor stretches far down the food chain, beyond simple agricultural labor.
Credit: Sheri Trusty / Justice for Migrant Women

A man stands behind a restaurant kitchen order window, with two yellow order forms in the foreground.

Manuel’s portrait and personal story reflect the stories of restaurant workers across the country.
Credit: Sheri Trusty / Justice for Migrant Women

For the past six years, Ramírez had kept in mind the idea of ​​staging the invisible work behind restaurants and dining rooms. She finally dove into the project earlier this year after interviewing members of the migrant community working on farms in Ohio, where she was born – her own family was made up of migrant farm workers until they settle in Ohio. “There is an opportunity to build something that could humanize people who are mostly invisible, who are so valuable and who add so much to our country and our world,” Ramírez said of the project.

The 20 biographies will be on display across the country in collaboration with university catering services, student-led organizations and chefs like Ingrid Hoffmann, host of cooking shows on NBC, Telemundo and Univision. “Working in the food industry for so many years has taught me that behind every step of the food chain lies a vulnerable human being at work with little or no protection,” Hoffmann wrote in the press release of the campaign.

The 10 universities, including Ohio State University and the University of Michigan, and 35 restaurants, spread across migrant paths from Florida to Ohio, will also share resources on advocating for migrant workers with diners, as well. than biographies. The campaign currently has over 100 partners and hopes to expand to 300 by the end of the year. Ramírez wanted to make sure there was a range of places and settings to share these stories. “I love the idea of ​​being able to have these portraits at a mom and pop restaurant in Fremont, Ohio, and having portraits of these amazing people raised by some of the most famous chefs and some of the greatest restaurants in different regions. of the country, ”she explained.

Stories range from personal accounts of migratory work to explorations of dreams and passions outside the food chain. As Ramírez described, some of the community members featured struggled to speak for themselves. Yoni, one of the young men interviewed for the project, told him he didn’t have the luxury of dreaming, just working. He is only 16 years old.

When we talk about the pandemic and the role of agricultural and other workers, our communities have always known that we are essential. The world has finally woken up and understood this.

– Monica Ramirez

Antonia Garces is also featured in The Humans Who Feed Us. She worked for nine years on one of the farms in Ohio Ramírez spoke about, picking tomatoes and green beans, and has been involved in migration work for over 45 years. Garces speaks fondly of the legacy of agricultural labor within his family, both before his time and as it continues through his children and grandchildren.

“I have five children, all married. And they all migrate to Ohio for green beans and tomatoes. It’s our life. I mean, we know how to pick the crops, work hard in the fields, and we carry our grandchildren, too. So they learn from the hard work we do, ”Garces said.

Eight months ago, Garces’ husband passed away. They married at age 17 and had physically transported their children and grandchildren from Texas to Ohio in every harvest season for the past nine years; it would take them three days to complete the trip. This year, she didn’t think she could do it without him. “This emptiness – leaving without my husband – especially since he’s the head of our crew… I thought it would be difficult. But I succeeded. I said, ‘I’m a strong woman. Very strong . And I know I can do it. ‘”After more than a year of large-scale loss of life, Antonia’s story can resonate with many Americans.

Unlike many other members of the migrant community, Garces said she was privileged to have a supportive employer who gave her time to spend with her family and even supported her financially after her loss. “Our boss, where we work, treats us like family. He went to [my husband’s] funeral, and not every employer would do that, “Garces mused.” Not many people have that – they don’t have that privilege. ”

See the portraits of Yoni and Antonia below.

A woman in a red shirt poses in front of a field of grass.

Credit: Abel Riojas / Justice for migrant women

A teenage boy in a black shirt sits at an outdoor table in front of a brick wall.

Credit: Sheri Trusty / Justice for Migrant Women

According to Ramírez, the second goal of the project is to pressure government leaders to see these people as members of the community deserving of federal protection. “We call on Congress to create permanent protections for immigrant workers in frontline and essential jobs,” she said. “We can have a Build Back Better package that also includes protections for immigrant workers. “

Along with the campaign, Justice 4 Migrant Workers is urging people to sign a petition demanding a path to citizenship and a bill of protections that would make migrant work safer. This is a long overdue action by federal leaders. “When we talk about the pandemic and the role of farm workers and others, our communities have always known we are essential. The world finally woke up and understood this. Political leaders eventually decided to call in farm workers and other essential people, but they still did, ”Ramírez said.

From restaurant workers and food cart owners to farm workers, members of migrant communities are catalyzing the food chain, filling grocery stores and dining tables across the country. The minimum we can do as conscious consumers is to recognize their humanity, uplift their stories as we eat our holiday meals, and support their fight for a safer life.

UPDATE: November 18, 2021, 5:15 p.m. EST This story has been updated to include more information about the Humans Who Feed Us campaign partners.

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About Michael S. Montanez

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