We are excited to continue our powerful Food Justice Voices series in 2017 beginning with El Sueño Americano – The American Dream. Food Justice Voices is intended to amplify the voices and experiences of grassroots leaders that aren’t heard enough, while creating awareness and educating readers on various issues connected to hunger and poverty. El Sueño Americano is no different. In this piece, you’ll hear directly from Kathia Ramirez, organizer and Food Justice Coordinator at CATA (The Farmworker Support Committee/Comité de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agrícolas) in New Jersey, along with farmworker members of CATA. Kathia is from Los Angeles, CA although her parents migrated from the State of Oaxaca, Mexico where they have a history of working the land. In this piece, Kathia discusses the immigrant farmworker experience in pursuing the American dream, the struggles they face and why the work for food justice is important on many levels.

“Here in the United States, food is produced more as quantity over quality. It is not about whether it is nutritious but rather if it looks "good" on the outside even though it might be tasteless or have been forced to grow in a short period of time. Our food system is dependent on pesticides and paying workers a low wage in order meet the demand for cheap food. This creates a vicious cycle because farmworkers are only able to afford cheap, processed food with little access to healthy, organic produce.” – Kathia Ramirez

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This spotlight is a feature of WhyHunger’s digital storytelling that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: International Rescue Committee, Austin, TX. Story and photos by David Hanson.

There are no FM radio stations when driving up the Pauma Valley from California’s Interstate 15. The straggly ends of the Sierra Nevada Mountains make for a choppy landscape. Creeks are full of round, sand-colored granite boulders, but no water. It’s desert, but there’s water somewhere; the hills are green with pines and oaks. And orange groves dominate the valley bottoms. Even the massive Casino Pala with its two mall-sized parking decks, giant windowless casino room, and hulking block of a hotel leaves the roadside scene as fast as it enters it. Then you’re once again driving on the winding road through the deep green, slightly tan landscape of arid foothills.

This is remote for southern California. It’s quiet. Roosters crow. Birds chirp. A few cars drive by. The International Rescue Committee’s Pauma Valley farm began here in 2012 on what was a defunct non-profit center.
Bilal drives an hour to the farm most days of the week since he works with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) as a leader of the Somali-Bantu group of refugee immigrants that arrived to San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood between 2004 and 2006. For Bilal, the drive is not ideal, but considering what it took to get him to America and then to a job on a farm, an hour driving his Honda Odyssey mini-van is nothing.

Like most of the Bantu people who have arrived to the US, Bilal had to leave his small village when the rebels arrived. They fled immediately, so immediately that Bilal’s mom was separated from her only child. Bilal walked 375 miles to Kenya where he was placed in one refugee camp, while his mom went to another. Bilal lived for almost ten years in the camp, and he wasn’t reunited with his mother until the year he was finally sent to America. They had only seven months to spend together then Bilal took the ticket to San Diego.

The IRC meets refugees like Bilal at the airport. The fleeing men and women often know of IRC from their presence in the refugee camps. The IRC works with over 10,000 refugees each year. They help the new arrivals, who often come from ethnic groups that are marginalized in their home countries (ie, little to no school, minimal job opportunities and training) to a somewhat similar status in the US. They rarely know English, much less the cultural nuances of our fast-paced, urban, materialistic, capitalistic day-to-day existence. 

But they bring amazing assets. Go into most new immigrant communities in the US – Burundi, Somali Bantu, Burmese Karen, Ugandan – and often you’ll discover former food deserts transformed into small-business hubs serving the immediate community: produce stands, meat shops, corner stores with spices and vegetables we’ve never seen in our American groceries.

And most of the immigrants can farm. Bilal had looked down on farming in his home village. It wasn’t a cool thing to do. The Bantu were farmers and their ethnicity was shunned and persecuted so farming was not seen in the best light. Similar, perhaps, to some quickly eroding perceptions of farmers in America. When Bilal, like many refugees, arrived to America, he immediately missed not only his family and friends left behind, but the land. “Farmer” was not on the job opportunities list for most refugee job placement programs that offer airport, hospitality, and low-end food service positions. 

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Want to know what it looks like to "transform" your block through art, food justice activism, community organizing, and a whole lot of love? From our amazing partners Tierra y Libertad Organization in Tucson, AZ, comes this digital story made for Literacy Forsyth Digital Storytelling Camp about Sarah Fox's experience painting a mural with a group of friends during her internship with TYLO. Grab your spray cans - you're about to be inspired!

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Welcome to WhyHunger’s Connect Blog featuring stories, projects and articles from the community-based organizations, organizers and social movements that are building the movement for food justice.

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