By VICTOR CALDERON
The New Vision
Leopaldo Guzman Nuñez symbolized strength as he carried the cross leading the procession at a Mass for farmworkers last month in San Luis.
Guzman Nuñez’s strength was hard-earned by decades working in the lettuce fields of southwestern Arizona.
“My opinion is that we should thank the people who work hard in the fields and pray that there is more work available for them,” said Guzman Nuñez, 78. Despite his age that shows on his tired face and callused hands, Guzman said he still has traveled from Zacatecas in central México to seek work in the southern Arizona fields to make a living.
Farmworkers were recognized on Dec. 1 with the Mass and the blessing of a center in Yuma that works with growers and employers to recruit seasonal workers from Mexico to come legally into the United States.
The Farmworker Mass was part of the 18th annual Día del Campesino – Day of the Farmworker – at Friendship Park, located just north of the international border. The festivities began at 3 a.m. so farmworkers, who begin work early each day, could attend.
Farmworkers and their families received free health services, including flu shots and basic health tests, and more than 60 community organizations participated.
Farmworkers in attendance dressed as they would in the fields — in jeans and baseball caps for the men and head wraps for the women. During the procession, some carried hoes and other instruments of the harvest, as well as an offering of produce.
The Mass was said mostly in Spanish with some English. Those in attendance maintained a serious and respectful tone throughout the Mass.
“This was a beautiful Mass for us farmworkers,” said Maria Refugio Ramirez of San Luis. “We realize the work of God among us and ask that He may bless us.”
Farmworker advocates from around the country and Mexico also attended the day’s events.
“We’re indebted to Mexico for giving us their best people,” said Suzanne Broetje, executive director of the Vista Hermosa Foundation, the charitable arm of her family Broetje Orchards apple company in Prescott, Wash. “We owe respect to them for what they’ve given.”
Bishop Kicanas attended both events along with humanitarian Howard G. Buffett, the eldest son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
The Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolas, (CITA) or Independent Center for Agricultural Workers, partnered with Buffett‘s namesake foundation to provide funding to open farm worker support centers in Chiapas, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi and other interior Mexican states.
The goal is for the centers to recruit seasonal workers to come legally into the United States under the H-2A program. The H-2A program was created by the U.S. government and permits growers to hire foreign guest workers on temporary work visas to fill seasonal jobs they cannot fill with domestic labor. Employers apply to the government for the H-2A visas needed for the workers.
“It’s important for farmers to know about us because… it’s up to farmers to get their workforce,” said Janine Duron, CITA’s executive director, explaining that farmers now must seek out workers on their own giving rise to the predatory recruiters now in operation. “And (with the centers)workers get a safe, secure way to come to the U.S. to work in agriculture.”
CITA was created by Catholic Relief Services working through the Tucson Diocese along with dioceses in Mexicali, Mexico. CITA is a bi-national nonprofit organization that connects workers with U.S. growers needing labor.
“Migrant farmworkers are the backbone of our country’s food system,” Buffett said following the recent Mass. “The fact that we have a broken immigration system… is just wrong.”