Less than 20 miles from downtown San Diego is a place that many Californians choose to ignore. The San Ysidro border crossing is the busiest border crossing in the world. According to the United States General Services Agency, the Border processes over 50,000 northbound vehicles and 25,000 northbound pedestrians each day. Along with the thousands crossing the border, crime and drug trafficking run rampant across the semipermeable US border. The Huffington Post states that on any given day, 100-160 Mexican nationals are sent through this border to be deported. The truth about Baja California is much different than the ideas we see in the orange county bubble. In this writing series, I will be unpacking the perspective of those from the other side. This is the first of several short articles on the people, culture, and challenges facing residents of Baja California.
Once a year, I have had the opportunity to help the people of a small community in Baja California known as San Quintin. While San Quintin is not a border city, it holds significance in Mexican exports crossing the San Diego border. San Quintin provides many agricultural products to US markets in California. Products like berries, tomatoes, and avocados come from this town. Migrant workers from other regions of Mexico come here seeking employment during the harvest seasons. The communities near agricultural fields are usually tent style housing with little to no access to amenities such as electricity and running water. Vice News recently did a documentary covering the seriousness of an issue in this community, one which I was able to experience firsthand.
In 2015, mexican agricultural workers chose to protest poor working conditions and minimum wages that would be considered absurd in any country including Mexico. Vice reports that workers were paid as little as $7.00 a day. The footage above was taken a few weeks before I arrived with a missions group to the area. We arrived to a scene of disparaged people, who were fighting for legitimate social justice. I can vividly remember seeing lines of people in the streets, choosing not to work for the potential of better pay. Out of all the things I saw on this trip, the most inspiring was the fact that these people can smile and find happiness in the face of poverty and desperation.
While my once yearly missions trip concludes with a new house for a family in need, our efforts are nothing to change a horrific socioeconomic cycle that is driven by corporate interests and abuse of power. BerryMex and Driscolls are two of the major corporations that are taking advantage of cheap labor, and lack of resources to enforce labor laws in Baja California. Vice News also reports that child labor is a common occurrence among farms as enforcement of child labor laws is relatively nonexistent. In the post-protest narrative, Driscoll’s reported that it raised wages which was appreciated by the workers. The company points to work attendance as a measure of happiness, but this approach is meaningless. Regardless of Driscolls wage increase, workers are still living in horrible housing situations, and living on a wage that would be unheard of in other regions of the country. One of my visits to this area was to a woman who was living in a home entirely made of cardboard, along with her 4 children. While we were able to help this woman and her family, the truth is that there are hundreds of other cases like this one in the community.
The berries that we eat with our breakfast come from the hands of modern day slave labor that is less than 2 hours away from our Orange County bubble. True social justice is something that many Americans may be forgetting, as it actually happens outside our borders. We fight in California for $15.00 an hour minimum wage, while workers in areas like San Quintin can only pray for that amount in one day. It is irrational to ignore the world around us, and it’s time these people are given a voice.
Lead Correspondent – Summit Press OC