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Multidimensional solidarity: Building migrant power means challenging hegemonic masculinity

While exploitation at the hands of their Canadian employers is a unifying feature of migrant farm worker experiences, this is not the only social relation that impacts their lives. Understanding and acknowledging the existence of the patriarchy is a major obstacle in our struggle.

Fuerza Migrante (previously Migrant Workers Dignity Association, MWDA)1 is committed to ending all forms of oppressive social relations that prevent the autonomous development of communities and individuals to their fullest potential. This work extends outwards into the community but also inwards towards the people who make up our organization. As an organization formed by both settlers and migrants, we are cognizant of the ways the oppressive society we live in shapes our language, thought, and practices. While we are united by values and aspirations for justice, hope, and liberation, the forms of internalized oppression we carry not only seriously negate and delimit our organizing abilities, they can also damage and sever our relations as compañeres.

Fuerza Migrante was originally created as an organization (then known as the MWDA) to support power-building of migrant farm workers to fight against the individuals, institutions, and social relations that seek to dominate them in Canada. One of the original founding pillars was recognizing the inability of antiquated labour union models, which through bureaucratic, white-centric, and paternalistic practices, were choking out the advance of migrant autonomy. As that style of labour politics did not represent or advance migrant interests, the then-MWDA built itself as a political space where horizontal migrant power could develop.

Throughout its history, Fuerza Migrante has walked and learned alongside migrant workers as they resist, at times victoriously and others unsuccessfully, the abuses from their employers, the colonial Canadian, Mexican and Guatemalan states.

While exploitation at the hands of their Canadian employers is a unifying feature of migrant farm worker experiences, this is not the only social relation that impacts their lives. Understanding and acknowledging the existence of the patriarchy is a major obstacle in our struggle. Patriarchal discourse and practice not only teaches cismales to objectify and enact violence against folk who do not conform to traditional roles of masculinity, it also encourages self-harm through unsustainable levels of neglect towards their own physical and mental health by devaluing self-care and emotions as “feminine”, and therefore, “inferior,” traits. Patriarchal oppression fractures migrant unity through gendered violence and lack of empathy, intensifying the exploitation of migrant labour by capitalists both in Canada and abroad. Identifying and organizing against these dynamics creates an opportunity for radical political action while validating the complex reality of migrants’ existence and struggle. A multidimensional lens that forces us to analyze and question ourselves does not take importance away from fighting capitalism, nor does it “betray” or “displace” the workers’ voice and participation from the centre of our work. In fact, claims like these (which we have unfortunately heard) not only ignore the radical feminist voices of migrant workers today, they are also excuses to not take responsibility for our own role in reproducing the system that upholds the power of patriarchal and toxic men in our struggles for liberation.

One-dimensional struggles are not what Fuerza Migrante is interested in. Generating radical action based on the interlocking systems of oppression we face has not been given the importance it demands, and efforts to build a self-determining migrant movement will never succeed if we continue working in a way that separates, rather than unites us.

Thus, we have focused on building capacity around fighting the patriarchy and the capitalist colonial state as it pertains to the lives of migrant workers in BC. This is only a first step, and perhaps a mere approximation to the larger work that must be done by all of us, but we joyously take on this challenge.

Enlisting the support of Byron Ochoa, a long-time friend and dedicated organizer from Colombia who has decades of experience working with groups of men across Latin America (see here and here), the team at Fuerza Migrante took on the process of facing the embodiments of hegemonic masculinity within each of them. Over the course of several months, the team was part of both a personal learning process, as well as a collective training in order to be better prepared to facilitate workshops on hegemonic masculinity to migrant workers.

The result of this work has been threefold:

  1. Fuerza Migrante has never been more clearly and fervently devoted to organize across axes of oppression;
  2. The organization has developed and prioritized internal procedures, policies, and practices that seek to eradicate all forms of gendered oppression; and
  3. We began offering a workshop for migrant workers to explore, from a systemic perspective, the many ways hegemonic masculinity affects them, their families, and communities.

Since mid 2018, Fuerza Migrante has offered this workshop to migrant workers, who have shared and learned together some of the ways in which their masculinities play a role in their situation of exploitation in Canada, as well as a burden to building better work and living conditions both here and at home. At these workshops, migrant farm workers have begun to articulate how they enact patriarchal masculinity, and the harsh difficulty of challenging this way of being. In these workshops workers begin to understand more clearly that as long as the patriarchy remains intact, there will always be men that perform and  deeply embody a patriarchal masculinity, who will taunt, ridicule and pressure folks into dehumanizing conformity. Workers have identified how this attitude infiltrates their lives at farms in Canada, and is an obstacle to their unity and wellbeing.

It is as part of this larger project of building multidimensional struggles that we are now sharing our efforts to any organization that may also be struggling with the same issues. We do so with the hope that we can learn together so we can stop hurting one another. This is an invitation to end presenting our struggle as independent from other systemic injustices, a strategy which only benefits the oppressors and the system they violently sustain. It is an invitation to redefine solidarity not as a practice which holds distance from the struggle of another, but which emphasizes and builds capacity in the intersections that bring us together, built upon the foundations of love and respect.

Fuerza Migrante produced the following materials, which we’d like to share the following materials (links to be added soon!):

1 This process began in early 2018, not simply to change names, but signifies an arduous effort aimed at bringing to the forefront our commitment to fight against gendered violence as part of our work.