Politico Magazine (Op-Ed)
By ALONDRA DE LA CRUZ
September 09, 2018
ARVIN, Calif.— Around midday on a recent Thursday morning, a group of 20 Central Valley farmworkers walked out of a kale field, untied the bandanas they usually wear as facial protection and lined up to collect a free lunch.
Farmworker Norma Alvarado won the meal for her colleagues after entering the “Cuadrilla De La Semana” drawing hosted by her favorite radio station: Bakersfield’s 92.5-FM, La Campesina. Fifteen years ago, Alvarado emigrated from San Luis Potosi in central Mexico, and has worked in the fields of California’s Central Valley ever since, picking food—broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes—and religiously listening to La Campesina, not for the prizes or the Mexican music, but because of the singular role it plays in the life of the farmworker community.
Stop by any group of farmworkers here, and you’re likely to hear La Campesina. That’s as intended—the network was founded in 1983 by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers with the goal of reaching farmworkers in the fields, and it is operated today by the Cesar Chavez Foundation. But where Chavez originally dreamed of programming that would serve the needs of Spanish-speaking immigrants by educating them about workers’ rights, today’s political climate demands something different to serve the immigrant audience. Though it’s happened largely out of the view of the mainstream news media, throughout Western states, La Campesina has adapted to the political moment by becoming something like the immigrant community’s version of Radio Free Europe—a voice of idealistic defiance broadcasting in hostile territory—at a time of deep partisan animus toward Latinos. Now, with nine stations across four states—from Yuma, Arizona, in the south to the tri-cities of Washington in the north, broadcasting in both AM and FM—it reaches more than 1 million regular listeners, many of them immigrants working in hotels, restaurants, and manufacturing or food-processing plants.
While AM radio is often thought to be the turf of conservative talking heads, La Campesina’s KNAI is frequently the top-rated AM station in metropolitan Phoenix. In April, it had double the ratings of KFYI, the local station that carries Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, competing against those broadcasting titans with regional Mexican music, resistance-themed commentary en Español, and practical life tips for getting by as a Latino immigrant in Trump’s America.
Among Campesina’s most popular regular segments: advice on what to do if approached by an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For Alvarado, the radio contest winner, the prospect of being detained by ICE looms as her biggest fear. “We need to be on the lookout for la migra because they are going strong right now and they want us out of this country,” she says. It’s one of the main reasons she listens religiously to La Campesina: She and her colleagues carry a portable radio with them in the fields because they see the station as a lifeline.
That’s a role the radio network plays on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican listeners in San Luis Rio Colorado and Mexicali tune in to Yuma’s KCEC for its immigration-related programming. Other listeners as far south as Mexico City, Guatemala and El Salvador stream La Campesina’s programming online. All can hear tips on how to best avoid ICE and the resources available to them if they are detained.
“We are a beacon of hope for immigrants and people who are coming to the country who do not necessarily have their footings here or don’t necessarily know where to go for help,” says Cesar L. Chavez, grandson and namesake of the civil-rights leader and the general manager of La Campesina’s Bakersfield station for the past six years. “We try to guide them in the right direction.”
“There is no wall for us,” says Maria Barquin, a longtime La Campesina employee who now directs programming for the entire network. “The signal crosses the wall.”
The genesis of La Campesina came in 1962, when Cesar Chavez, along with leadership of what would become the United Farm Workers of America founded the National Farm Workers Association and adopted a resolution calling for the creation of a once a week, 30-minute Spanish language radio program to entertain and educate farmworkers. From that seed grew the vision for Radio Campesina, which formed in 1983 not as a single show, but an entire station—Visalia’s KUFW.
Today, La Campesina’s programming consists of popular regional Mexican music hosted by colorful deejays, public service announcements and educational programming. Their daily network educational program, “Punto de Vista” (“Point of View”), covers topics related to immigration, health and education, with experts invited on to speak about those topics.
When immigration raids expanded in California earlier this year, La Campesina adopted a new slogan to fits its more aggressive posture in opposing the crackdown—“La estación siempre en guardia,” or “the station always on guard.”
Hosts receive on-air phone calls from farmworkers who’ve encountered ICE and are willing to share their stories. Attorneys and psychologists offer educational commentaries, advising the immigrant community how to cope with the anxiety of family separation. In between, the station broadcasts an announcement from their current campaign: “Since the beginning of [the Trump] administration, the community has had to adapt to a new way of living. Millions of Latinos live in fear of seeing their families separated by an ICE detention. That is why at Radio Campesina, we are a station that is on guard against these actions. Here, we will tell you how to prepare your family with information that can help you in the case of a raid. Not having a status in this country does not make you a criminal. Get ready and act.”
“We are protecting our community and informing them of their rights by giving them information about what to do if they get detained or if a friend gets detained,” says Barquin. This advice includes how to get representation by an attorney and how to secure their families and properties if they are deported.
In April, Radio Campesina’s team traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to meet the migrant caravan that had traveled from Central America (and earned the ire of President Trump in the process), and broadcast a live show from across the border, hoping to create a bridge between immigrants wanting to enter the U.S and immigrants who are already there. Besides bringing together both sides of the border through their airwaves, La Campesina hoped to create awareness with all people, even those who are not part of the immigrant community.
La Campesina also traveled to the border in response to Trump’s family-separation policy. It broadcast live reports after every update on the issue. The crisis prompted the network to relaunch its annual “En guardia con mi voto” or “Get out to vote” campaign, with a more aggressive posture than ever before.
This summer, Campesina has expanded its efforts to reach a new audience: the sons and daughters of immigrants, people who see themselves as having a sort of dual identity. In Fresno, KBHH “Forge” has become the network’s first bilingual station (it already has an English-language station in Bakersfield; Forge is aimed at listeners who can speak both languages). “Forge” will follow the same strategy as its Campesina brethren but will play Top 40 music with a twist of Spanish-language songs.
“The kids of those listeners of Radio Campesina are growing up,” says Barquin. “This generation needs to have empowerment maybe in a different language. We understand that they have the same roots as their parents in the culture that they love, but we also understand that the language and the music is something that is evolving as they come to a different country.”
It’s a country that, according to Alvarado, gives opportunities to immigrants that their homelands could not. “We came here to work, not to commit crime. We came here to progress,” says Alvarado. “We are not stealing, and they are not giving us anything for free. We are working for it.”
On the day Alvarado won lunch, local disc jockey Marimar Flores stopped by to help deliver it, and congratulated her on winning the contest. Alvarado’s fellow farmworkers let out a celebratory cheer and lined up for helpings of pork in green chile, salad, rice and beans. While they ate, a representative from a local health care provider taught them how to make a medical appointment. Throughout, it had the feeling of a celebration.
When the food was gone and their plates cleared, the farmworkers waved goodbye to the radio station’s van as it drove away, kicking up dust in its wake. They retied their bandanas over their faces and returned to the fields, where the tinny sound of La Campesina would waft alongside them until they stopped working.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com