Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
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Winds of Change
February 2003


 What Part Don't Coal Companies Understand?

Remembering Laura

Don't Despair - Organize and Fight Back Instead!

West Virginia Bill for Public Financing of Elections Advancing

Trick or Treat for George Bush - No War!

West Virginia's Clean Election Law - Let's Do the Right Thing and Return Honor to the Process

China - Nehlen remark unwise

Sylvester 'Dustbusters' Beat Up On Massey Energy

Massey Energy Subsidiary Denied Permit to Cover Another West Virginia Town with Coal Dust

Small Town Threatened by Huge Slurry Impoundment Proposal

Mothman Returns: Is He Sending Us Another Dire Warning?

Ken Hechler: A Hero for Our Time

Buffalo Creek 30 Years Later - Have We Learned the Lessons?

Legislation Introduced to Counter Bush Rollback of Clean Water Regulations

Whose Monument Is It?
Keep Miner, Ditch Industry Rhetoric at New Coal Memorial

World Social Forum Shows Commonality of People's Goals

The Field of Broken Dreams

Hey! The Truth IS Out There!

The Truth is Out There - Wayyyyyy Out There, in Massey Energy's Case

Honoring a Great Crusader


For viewing the PDF version


The Field of Broken Dreams

by Janet Fout

Eating California strawberries will never again be the same for me not since my recent trip to observe and learn from the community leadership of Rufino Dominguez, the Executive Director of Oaxaca Binational Indigenous Coalition (FIOB), and the Mixteca people with whom he works, many who cross the Mexican border to work in the farm fields of California growers.

(This trip was one of the educational activities provided by the Ford Foundations 2001 Leadership for a Changing World Award to Laura Forman, Dianne Bady and me. Several other Ford awardees also participated in this trip.)

We met in Oaxaca, Mexico, where Rufino and other community-based leaders organize and educate workers about their rights on both sides of the border. FIOB neither encourages nor discourages the Mixteca from migrating to the U.S., but encourages them to hold dear their culture and language. Our trip included visits to Juxtlahuaca and Tijuana, Mexico, as well as San Diego and Fresno, Calif., where FIOB has its main office.

Oaxaca is both a city and a state in southern Mexico, rich in indigenous cultures, including the Mixteca people who have survived for centuries against monumental odds. As another Ford awardee, Salvador Reza from Phoenix, Ariz., put it when asked why he wanted to visit Oaxaca he said: "I am going to learn from a community that has existed since time immemorial, a community that has survived the Spanish onslaught called conquest, has survived the independence wars of Mexico, has survived the official politics of Indigenismo always attempting to rob their lands, their language, their culture for a consumer society that has no inkling of what it means to be close to the land. Despite all of this, it is a community that has retained their language, their customs, and their traditions on both sides of the artificial geographic line called the "Border."

Hmmm. "Rob their landstheir culture" That sounds familiar.

After reading Salvadors statement, I began to realize that maybe we, in West Virginia, could learn from these ancient Mixteca people "new" ways to preserve our own mountains, communities, and culture from King Coal and the politicians who are robbing us Appalachian people of our mountains and their natural wealth, communities and culture.

We began our trip from the city of Oaxaca, where we traveled to Juxtlahuaca, a small rural mountain community about six hours away zigzagging over mostly narrow, winding mountain roads (including a stretch known as the "Devils Backbone"). The summer-like weather and azure skies was a welcome relief from the sub-freezing temperatures and the leaden skies of home.

When we arrived in Juxtlahuaca, a lovely town nestled in and surrounded by mountains, the trees outside our first meeting place were teeming with familiar Cattle Egrets and melodious Great-tailed Grackles.

Just like in West Virginia, the people in Mexico hold meetings to discuss community issues. At every meeting we attended, we were introduced and warmly welcomed. Aided by a talented and personable tri-lingual interpreter, Irma Luna, fluent in her native Mixteca, Spanish and English, each of us visitors spoke briefly about our work in our home communities.

Typical "housing" for migrant farm laborers,
adjacent to strawberry fields near San Diego, Calif.

Although we are fighting different problems and undoubtedly, the economic inequities suffered by the Mixteca people are greater than those in southern West Virginia, some root causes were very similar: politicians and bureaucrats who turn a deaf ear to injustices, groups of people who are marginalized to facilitate exploitation of their resources and labor, and governments at all levels not enforcing laws.

Similarly, the leadership to bring about positive change in communities emanates NOT from governments and politicians, but from the grassroots regular people who are taking active leadership roles in community groups like FIOB (and OVEC).

I was truly impressed by the high degree of organization within FIOB, on the local, district (or county), regional, state and bi-national level. These leaders are elected by the grassroots; and if their leaders fail to do what is expected, they can be expelled from the group. Local organizations do their own fundraising an area where women and other family members play a major role.

But what about those strawberries I mentioned at the beginning? The absolute worst living conditions observed on the entire trip were in San Diego, Calif. (see photo). After crossing the border in Tijuana, we waited at a large strawberry field feasting on succulent strawberries. We were later joined by some leaders who help migrant farm laborers who led us down paths adjacent to the fields, among shrubs and small trees where the laborers lived.

We saw neither housing, nor facilities for bathing or cooking; but instead, makeshift shelters not even what most of us consider a decent campsite. A hole with water was used for bathing. How embarrassing to know that while these workers put food on our tables, they are not provided basic needs of food; clean, potable water; and shelter!

Im reminded of a quote by theologian Walter Wink: "Those of us who now enjoy affluence and freedom as well as power are predisposed to believe that benign forces shape our destiny. But to the extent that our blessings are incidental by-products of our citizenship in nations that currently enjoy domination status over others, our well-being may be more a result of flagrant injustice than divine providence" (from Engaging the Powers).

We fail to remember that our blessings and abundance often come to us at the expense and exploitation of much of the rest of the worlds people


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