A burned-out concrete blockhouse—the former police station—squats on one side of the only divided street in Vicente Guerrero, half a mile from Baja California’s transpeninsular highway. Just across the street lies the barrio of Nuevo (New) San Juan Copala, one of the first settlements of migrant farm workers here in the San Quintín Valley, named after their hometown in Oaxaca.
Behind the charred stationhouse another road leads into the desert, to a newer barrio, Lomas de San Ramón. Here, on May 9, the cops descended in force, allegedly because a group of strikers were blocking a gate at a local farm. A brutal branch of the Mexican police did more than lift the blockade, though. Shooting rubber bullets at people fleeing down the dirt streets, they stormed into homes and beat residents.
By then a farm-labor strike here was already two months old. Some leaders say provocateurs threw rocks and egged on a confrontation, but the beatings undeniably set off smoldering rage in the Lomas and Copala barrios. In addition, a government official who’d agreed to negotiate had failed to show up to talk with strike leaders.
By the end of the day, the police headquarters was a burned-out shell. One of the armored pickup trucks (called tiburones, or sharks) driven by police at breakneck speed down the dusty alleyways had been torched as well. It would be hard to imagine a more dramatic demonstration of workers’ fury over four decades of hunger wages.
And while the most dramatic protest this year has taken place in Baja California, the same anger is building among indigenous farm workers all along the Pacific Coast, from San Quintín in Mexico to Burlington, an hour south of the US border with Canada. Two years ago Triqui and Mixtec workers struck strawberry fields in Skagit County in Washington State. Two years before that, Triqui workers picking peas in the Salinas Valley rebelled against an inhuman work quota, and immigration raids in the town of Greenfield.
The strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries sold everyday in US supermarkets are largely picked by these indigenous families. Their communities are very closely connected, all along the agricultural valleys that line the Pacific Coast. These migrants come from the same region of southern Mexico, often from the same towns. They speak the same languages—ones that were thousands of years old when Europeans first landed on this continent. Increasingly they talk back and forth across the border, sharing tactics and developing a common strategy.
Indigenous farm workers labor for a small number of large growers and distributors who dominate the market. One of the largest distributors is Driscoll’s. Miles Reiter, retired CEO and grandson of its founder, says its intention is “to become the world’s berry company.” Driscoll’s contracts with growers in at least five countries, and even exports berries from Mexico to China.