Why we fast: reflections from Immokalee
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, four other Notre Dame students and I started our food fast, for 24-hour or 48-hour periods. This idea was based on a similar fast by Ohio State students who are demanding that the Wendy’s on their campus be removed due to the corporation’s refusal to join the Fair Food Program, which would ensure just wages and the protection of human rights for migrant agricultural workers in the field.
The five of us participated with seven other students in the Migrant Experiences social concerns seminar, a course which taught us about the injustices that migrant workers face in and out of the fields, including sexual harassment, wage theft and exploitative housing conditions. Our class then spent spring break in Immokalee, Florida, a community of migrant agricultural workers. For three days, our class awoke at 5 a.m. to drive to a small store called La Fiesta to offer donuts, coffee and conversation to migrant laborers before they departed for the fields.
I heard stories of men and women fleeing their country due to persecution or war. I heard of husbands, fathers and sons, leaving their family and home to come make money to send back to support their loved ones. I heard of men and women, years older than my parents, carrying about two tons of tomatoes each day — 32 pounds at a time — back and forth from the rows to the truck.
I heard the fear. A growing fear, lately. A fear of simply going out into town to the grocery store, to work or to church at the risk of deportation.
It leaves me sick. It leaves me frustrated. But I haven’t lost hope. Because I have seen the hope and heard the dreams of so many of the hardworking farmworkers in Immokalee. I admire their sense of pride and accomplishment in their work and their courage and selflessness to provide for their family. They inspire me.
The word Ubuntu, “My humanity is tied to yours,” is representative of our experience, because by allowing us to live in solidarity with the people of Immokalee for a week, we came to realize their humanity and the importance of protecting their rights.
Yet it is all too easy to discuss grand ideas about change, only to return and quickly become wrapped up in the daily craziness of life. The most effective way that I have shared my perspective is through stories. Whether it is sharing a story about the Wendy’s protest to my American Politics class or telling my close friends about the aspiring engineer from Haiti, it is these stories that rattle our core and call us back to our very understanding of human dignity and human life. We are called, specifically as Catholics, to recognize the dignity of the human person, to recognize their rights and responsibilities, to offer a preferential option for the poor and to ensure the dignity of work.
As I write this, it is April 28, International Workers’ Memorial Day. It is a day to remember and honor those who have been killed, disabled or injured by their work. As I reflect on my 24-hour fast of solidarity, it is hard to not think of the countless farmworkers who risk their lives every day to make sure that our grocery shelves are stocked. As the daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend of farmworkers, I know too well just how hard life as a farmworker can be.
During my 24-hour fast, whenever my stomach would start to grumble and I’d get hungry, I’d think about the people who work in the fields to put food on others’ tables but don’t have enough money to put food on their own. I at least had the luxury of knowing that in a few hours, I’d be able to eat again. I had the luxury of trying to calm my stomach with clean and safe drinking water during the fast. Some of the people I was fasting in solidarity for don’t have that luxury.
So today, I ask you, my fellow Irish, my fellow consumers, to learn more about where your food is coming from. That you aren’t satisfied with the conditions that farmworkers must endure. Lastly, do not remain silent about the injustices that are going on; speak up and spread the word and teach others as well.
We the students at Notre Dame have pledged to aid in this fight for Fair Food, a campaign started by the CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Workers) to hold more and larger entities responsible for ensuring protection of laborers’ rights and we ask that you pledge to do so with us. I will be going hungry for two days because I am Hungry for Food Justice, and ask for your support in the form of a simple pledge to not support Wendy’s until they sign on to the Fair Food Program and accept a share of the responsibility we all have in ensuring social justice for all.
In Notre Dame,
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.