Liberation Road

‘You’re not a farmer. You’re a farmworker.’

The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project

August 18, 2021/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

Those words, says Rudy Arredondo in our interview this week, sum up the historic attitude of the US government toward Latino — mainly Mexicano — farmers and ranchers. Ever since the mid-19th century, the United States has done everything in its substantial power to turn Mexican farmers from landowners into farmworkers who have only their labor to sell.

In 1848, after nearly two years of war between the US and México, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo promised the victorious US would recognize existing Mexican land ownership in the ceded territories. But legal trickery of various sorts would soon dispossess the Mexicans. That trickery was backed up by the courts, threats of lynching, and the Texas Rangers.

Before the war, under the Mexican government, farmers had paid taxes on their land’s total yield. That meant they paid less in tax in years of low harvest. After the war, under the new American rules, farmers on the conquered land that would become the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California had to pay a tax based only on land value. When crops failed, so did Mexican farmers.

In 1850, Mexicano-Tejanos made up a third of the workforce and owned a third of the land. Just 20 years later, they constituted 48 percent of the workforce and owned 11 percent of the land. In Nueces County, Mexicans owned 100 percent of the land in 1835. By 1883, Anglos owned 100 percent of the county’s land.

Mexicanos lost more than farms. They lost financial security, for themselves and for their children and grandchildren. Their work turned into Anglo wealth, passed on through the generations, perpetuating and growing the Mexicano/Anglo wealth gap up to the present.

Progressives should not, like the USDA, overlook the constant struggle of Mexicano farmers to stay afloat. Support for Mexicano farmers, not just Mexicano farmworkers, needs to be part of our ongoing fight for racial justice.

Rudy Arredondo has been the president of the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association since he founded the organization in 1997. Arredondo served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture under both the Carter and Clinton Administrations and has long experience dealing with congressional leaders on farm issues. His organization is currently working to change US national agricultural policies to address the needs of farmers and ranchers of color.

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