Clara Mejía Orta (COL ’17) reflects on her experience attending the Student/Farmworker Alliance’s annual Encuentro in fall 2015. We at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor were glad to sponsor Clara’s travel and participation at this year’s Encuentro. Read more about the SFA’s work in economic justice for farmworkers.
Encuentro is a Student/Farmworker Alliance run gathering that provides a space for youth leaders to strategize, reflect, and build relationships with each other. During the weekend we have the opportunity to interact with members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, in order to stand in solidarity with them and strengthen the movement for fair food.
Since high school I was interested in food justice; however, I always looked at it from a consumer lens. I never stopped to think about the conditions that farmworkers undergo working in the fields that feed our communities. My interest with food justice drove me to apply for the Center for Social Justice’s Alternative Program Break; Fair Food: Labor, Migration, and Advocacy during my first year at Georgetown. The trip reframed the way I looked at food justice; but most importantly it sparked my interest in the many ways the CIW employs art in its movement. Art is mixed into the essence of the movement, from the powerful imagery used for actions and vigils to popular education. That year we participated in the action that took place outside Wendy’s HQ in Columbus, Ohio. After refusing to accept of listen to the CIW demands, we chanted together “We’ll be back…We’ll be back,” it took me almost two years to be back chanting for a Fair Food Nation with SFAers and members of the CIW as I participated in #Encuentro2015.
My journey to Encuentro started with four fellow Hoyas—Chris, Esmeralda, Alissa and Pam. During the first night we went to the CIW’s Community Center, once there, mujeres from the coalition welcomed us. One of them, Carmen, wrote a poem for us. It was both a welcome to the Encuentro and a call for action, she urged us to approach this weekend with an open mind, respect and ganas to keep the movement growing. Her words were echoed by Sarita, an SFA staff member who encouraged us to approach this weekend with radical humility and respect.
To close up the night we partook in an Encuentro tradition, building an altar using a personal memento. One by one we stood up and shared our stories. Through our collective experiences we painted a picture of the moments that shaped us and brought us to the movement. By becoming vulnerable and open with each other, we started creating a sense of community—a familia.
On Friday, we had a full day of workshops and dialogues. The day started off by hearing about the Fair Food Program and the history of the CIW and SFA organizing directly from members of the CIW and SFA. We sat down to enjoy a play put by CIW members as a form of popular education, teatro mistica. It showcases the exploitation and harsh working conditions that workers in tomato farms in Florida suffered prior to the existence of the Fair Food Program. After the play CIW members, proudly spoke of the many campaigns won and listed all the corporations that have sign the Fair Food Program. Coalition members emphasized the importance keeping big tomato buyers accountable for workers rights in the fields. After that my day was followed by a workshop on art and music in the movement.
The day ended with a powerful solidarity discussion led by CIW members. They challenged us to think about our role in the campaign as students and youth activists within our schools and communities. Coming out of Encuentro, I see our role as students and consumers to pressure corporations to improve the working conditions of farm workers in the field by using collective and organized actions. Such as the “Schooling Wendy’s National Week of Action” from Sunday, September 27th to October 4th.
Saturday was all about strategy. We brainstormed together strategies for the upcoming #SchoolingWendys campaign. Hoyas had also time to plan and strategize with alumni about ways in which we can be more involved and bring awareness about SFA and the CIW to the Hilltop. After the sessions we packed two buses and headed to Naples, a near by town, to have an action in front of a Wendy’s and a Publix. Full of ánimo; SFAers, members of the CIW and Encuentro participants chanted, while holding the iconic CIW art to demand that Wendy’s and Publix sign on to the Fair Food Program.
Once back at the retreat center in Immokalee, we shared a delicious meal in familia and then relaxed while enjoying Café Cultura. An Encuentro tradition that allows participants to share their poetry, art, music and dance. Art in all its forms defines my experience at Encuentro; art took many shapes during the weekend—informative work-shops, story sharing, popular education, food, banners, solidarity discussions, songs, and dance—just to mention a few, are forms of art that are embedded in the movement. They coexist in harmony with each other and enhance the strength of the coalition by bringing people together. On Sunday, Encuentro came to an end; there were hugs and goodbyes, I left with new friendships and ganas to keep the movement growing.
Encuentro translates to a reunion of people; it also can also be translated as the action of finding something. I think that both definitions prove to be true while describing SFA’s Encuentro. I was exited to go to Immokalee with my Hoya familia and reuniting with old friends and members of the GU community. Enceuntro, speaks to that reunion but it also has the spirit of finding something. Finding new friendships, knowledge and a sense of familia within SFAers and CIW members. I am beyond grateful for the familia I have found through the CIW; from my fellow Encuentro participants to ABPeers in Fair Foods and Georgetown Solidarity Committee. My interest in the CIW was sparked through Georgetown; it is no surprise that there are so many Hoyas involved in the movement. It speaks to the incredible support provided by offices such as the Kalmanovitz Initiative and the CSJ. I am thrilled to be part of the DC Fair Food community and get many more Hoyas involved.