Alianza Agricola – an Interview with Luis Jimenez
By Xochitl Antziri and Elizabeth Henderson
Against all odds, undocumented farmworkers on conventional dairy farms in Western NY have organized Alianza Agricola, making a way where there was no way to create a better future for the families and communities of immigrant farmworkers. Since 2016, with support from students at SUNY Geneseo, The Worker Justice Center, and other allies, their farmworker-founded and farmworker-led group has attracted over 100 members. It has made important contributions to the success of the Green Light New York campaign to achieve licenses for the undocumented, as well as participating in coalitions to pass the New York Hero Act and the Excluded Worker Fund. Just as significant, Alianza combats the loneliness of working on isolated dairy farms by providing a social community for its members and allies with shared dinners and soccer games.
During the 2023 legislative session in NY, Alianza took an active lead in the NY4All campaign to pass legislation that would prevent local police departments from acting as conduits for the Border Patrol. In support of the NY For All Act, Alianza Agricola issued this public statement:
“All New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, want to lead open lives in order to participate in their communities, provide for their families and access services without intimidation. Sadly, this is not currently the case for all New Yorkers. Many New Yorkers, especially those who work in agriculture, experience fear and intimidation daily, whether as they commute to work, go to the grocery store or any other daily task. This fear is due to continued local law enforcement and state agencies colluding with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to target the most vulnerable among us. The NY For All Act (S987/A5686) would prohibit the continued collusion and cruelty that many of our neighbors are experiencing. Immigrants in Upstate and Western NY, especially those who work in agriculture industries such as dairy, apples and wine, are at risk and have begun to feel an even greater sense of fear due to the lack of legislation like NY4All. It is difficult to live a full life when there is anxiety at every turn. Alianza Agricola, along with partner organizations, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), The NY Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Fwd.us, VERA, The Bronx Defenders and The Immigrant Defense Project, are working together to ensure that communities feel safe and families stay together.”
In April 2023, The Natural Farmer interviewed Luis Jimenez, president of Alianza’s Gabinete, an executive committee of six farmworkers. The group also has a board that includes labor activists and farmworkers. Here is the transcript, lightly edited for clarity.
TNF - What’s the purpose of Alianza Agricola?
Jimenez: To educate and empower us - farmworkers - to fight for benefits and laws that could change the quality of life of undocumented farmworkers.
TNF - Who are the members?
Jimenez: There are certain rules to be a member: one must be a farmworker, undocumented, and have no authoritative role - such as being a manager - in their workplace. To become a member, one must sign a code of conduct, attend meetings, and participate in activities representing undocumented farmworkers. Workers can find more information on our website (www.alianzaagricola.org); membership is free. Benefits for Alianza Agricola members include support with rides, interpretation, and opportunities to network with other organizations.
TNF - How did you get your driver’s license?
Jimenez: Before 2019, undocumented people couldn't get a driver's license. Since 2016, we have been active in a campaign called "Luz Verde" (Green Light) for people without citizenship to apply for a driver’s license. Many organizations, including NOFA, supported our efforts.
TNF - What do you do?
Jimenez: I am a dairy farmworker year-round. I have a garden that I work on from the summer until fall. I grow corn, squash, melons, cucumbers, radishes, and cilantro. I find time to work on my garden during the evenings. I like to give away tomatoes, tomatillos, and jalapenos. I come from a family of farming people. I know how to do everything on a farm. It's one of the things that I love to do.
TNF - What are your hopes and plans for creating a farm?
Jimenez: I'm familiar with Ramon Torres from Tierra y Libertad, a farmworker cooperative farm in Washington State. We want to have a cooperative farm. I want to help others as well as myself. We want to be independent of farm owners. We have so many farming skills and abilities, yet we don't have the economic resources to own/manage lands. I want to have my own farm one day. Harvest a bunch of things. I have done 19 years of livestock – calves, cows, goats, sheep, and chickens. It would be a dream come true to have that. Anything that has to do with making food.
TNF - What would you want to learn to broaden your professional skillset?
Jimenez: I am interested in learning how to be an organic farmer through NOFA. I would also like to know how to develop a business plan, a strategy plan, a financial plan, and how to develop a tool inventory.
TNF - Anything else you would like to talk about?
Jimenez: As human beings, regardless of citizenship, immigrants are trying to be part of this American society. We're more than just workers for farm owners. Our contribution to this country is significant. We've left our families. Our land. We came here to earn opportunities, and we're denied access to seek them. We don't want more racism. We don't wish for more discrimination. We want to be respected. We want to be accepted. As farmworkers, we want our work to be recognized. Agriculture is the least profitable industry for a worker. Every farmworker has every right as a human being.
There's this idea that the United States is this perfect dream. Once you're here, everything changes. It's been 19 years since I’ve seen my parents. It's hard to be so far away from them. You have to adapt to a new lifestyle, new food, new language, and different soil. Here all you have to do is work, work, work. Our lack of American citizenship is minimal. We want to educate ourselves more. We don't have the resources to increase our skillset in English. We are isolated. We get depressed. We continue to live here because we know we will have the income to survive. It's sad to work at a place that doesn't want you as a person but will want you for your labor. Capitalism forces us to be in these positions. It's a double-edged sword. You either survive in Mexico or in the United States.
Xochitl and Elizabeth are members of the TNF Advisory Committee and shared their skills to produce this interview.