At the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit, activist Mónica Ramírez, joined actors Diane Guerrero and Olga Segura and VICE Host Paola Ramos for an inaugural all-Latinx panel to discuss issues facing the Latinx community. We caught up with her to continue the conversation on her life's work.
How did your upbringing in an immigrant, farmworker family shape your values and sense of identity?
I am a third-generation Mexican-American, but I am the first generation of my family that did not work in agriculture growing up. My family settled in rural Ohio, where most of the Latinos who lived there were agricultural workers at one time. My parents both taught me to be proud of our heritage and of our connection to this agricultural worker history. I have carried this sense of pride towards my community with me throughout my entire life, and have dedicated my work to try to improve conditions for those workers who still confront so many problems and abuses.
Latinos have a long legacy of supporting the U.S. farming industry, while also facing high rates of discrimination, low pay, human rights violations, and unsafe working conditions, among many other challenges. What top three, possibly overlooked, things would you like to see change?
Most people do not know that there are women working in agriculture. There is a perception that there are only male workers, but there are women and children working in the fields, too. People overlook the fact that many women suffer sexual harassment in the workplace at the hands of supervisors, recruiters, co-workers, and others. Many individuals do not realize that workers who are employed in small workplaces with fewer than 15 workers, like small farms, are not covered by existing federal anti-sexual harassment law, which makes them vulnerable to this harm without any possibility of justice. Another overlooked fact is that children are lawfully able to work in agriculture without restriction as of the age of 12 in the U.S. They are among the youngest child workers in our nation and often suffer workplace injuries, exposure to pesticides, and barriers to educational attainment due to their status as child workers.
“We can’t have Latinx community members be the only ones fighting for the civil and human rights of the Latinx community, just as the Latinx community must commit to fighting for the civil and human rights of all people as well.”
Latinos are not a monolith, but are often considered a one-issue community and electorate. What issues would you like the broader Latino community to focus on and how would you like to see national conversations on Latino issues shift?
That is exactly right. Thank you for lifting up this fact. Immigration is an issue that our community is concerned about, but we are also concerned about our economy, workers’ rights, gender justice, healthcare, the education of our children, the possibility that our children will be able to go to school without amassing massive student loan debt and will be able to accrue wealth, and many other issues. I would like the conversations about Latinos to reflect that we are a multi-issue community that is contributing in major ways and want answers to some of these major issues to improve the living and working conditions of our community and all people in the U.S.
Since igniting the #TIMESUP movement with the “Dear Sisters” letter you penned in the TIME, how have the migrant farmworker women you work with responded?
Farmworker women are continuing to organize to end sexual harassment. One way is that we have helped to ensure that the BE HEARD Act, which has been introduced in Congress to address harassment in all its forms, includes all workers, no matter where they work. We have also been central to building a cross-sector power to achieve gender equity and end sexual harassment, as well as other harms. Farmworker women have been seen and heard. It’s been powerful and so important for our work and our community.
How can everyday Americans and non-Latinos support equality in the Latinx community?
Everyday Americans and non-Latinos can support equality and the Latinx community by speaking about the many ways in which we are working to make the U.S. stronger, the countless ways in which our culture enriches this nation, and the promise that our community holds when it comes to leadership, innovation, and so much more. We need our allies to speak out on our behalf, to defend our community when needed, and to understand that the issues that impact us are not only our issues to take on. We all need to be fighting for equality, fairness, and justice for each of us. We can’t have Latinx community members be the only ones fighting for the civil and human rights of the Latinx community, just as the Latinx community must commit to fighting for the civil and human rights of all people as well.
Learn more about Ramírez’s work with The Bandana Project, an art-activism and advocacy public awareness campaign aimed at addressing the issue of workplace sexual violence against farmworker women in the United States: https://justice4women.org/the-bandana-project.