Tragic Death of Migrant Farmworker José Obeth Santiz Cruz Inspires Vermonters to Build Bridges of Friendship and Solidarity With the Worker’s Tojolabal Mayan Community and Travel to Chiapas, Mexico

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For Immediate Release Contact: VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project
January 8, 2010 Brendan O’Neill 802-825-1609
Gustavo Teran 802-522-9096

Tragic Death of Migrant Farmworker José Obeth Santiz Cruz

Inspires Vermonters to Build Bridges of Friendship and Solidarity

With the Worker’s Tojolabal Mayan Community and Travel to Chiapas, Mexico

Vermonters Hope to Make Visible The Invisible

Who Sustain Struggling Vermont Dairy Farms

On December 22, 2009 in Fairfield, Vermont on Howrigan dairy farm 20 year old José Obeth Santiz Cruz from the town of Las Margaritas, Chiapas, Mexico was killed in a tragic farming accident. One day later a vigil was organized to honor the life, sacrifice and dignity of José Obeth Santiz Cruz and call upon Vermonters to commit themselves to work for real immigration reform that recognizes and respects the basic needs, dignity and human rights of all immigrants But who was Santiz Cruz? Where is he from? Why did he come here? These questions and more have motivated one group of Vermonters to cross the border and learn more to further cultivate a new relationship with Santiz Cruz’s indigenous Tojolobal Mayan community where he will be buried early next week.

On Saturday, January 9 the newly launched Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project will sponsor a small delegation of Vermonters Brendan O’Neill, Gustavo Teran, and Sam Mayfield to fly to Villahermosa, Tabascao in order to meet with the family of José Obeth Santiz Cruz, express their sorrow and gratitude, and accompany Santiz Cruz’s body to their Tojobal Mayan village of San Isidro near Las Margaritas, Chiapas. However, getting Santiz Cruz’s body home has not been easy.

As Gustavo Teran, who will travel to Mexico on Saturday on the delegation remarked, “I was pleased by the collaboration of migrant farmworker support workers and farmers in support of efforts to ensure Jose Obeth had a dignified burial in his own village. Often families never see the remains of their loved ones because they don’t have the money to bring them home.” Teran’s words resonate with the extended family of Santiz Cruz. The VTMFSP has learned that just 10 months ago an extended family member of Santiz Cruz, Ismael Meza Calvo, also from San Isidro, was attacked and murdered on his way home from a night shift in a warehouse in New Jersey and his family could not afford nor arrange for the transportation of his body back to Mexico so he was buried in New Jersey. These two deaths shed light on the hardships and invisibility of the lives and deaths of migrant workers in Vermont and the United States.

Over the past 2 weeks the VTMFSP has been meeting with and communicating closely with the extended family and community of Santiz Cruz in both Vermont and San Isidro; collaborating with a team of migrant farmworker support workers and the Mexican Consulate; and teaming up with VT Dairy farmers to ensure that Santiz Cruz’s body gets returned safely and respectfully to San Isidro without the financial burden having to fall on the family. This collaborative spirit led one VT dairy farmer, who wished to remain anonymous due to the broken immigration system that has both migrant farmworkers and farmers living in fear, to gather $4,000.00 in donation from the farming community to contribute towards the safe transportation of José Obeth Santiz Cruz’s body home to his village. Additionally, the Mexican Consulate, who contributed $2,0000.00 towards the transportation of Santiz Cruz’s body, has worked tirelessly in collaboration with other migrant farmworker support workers to ensure that José Obeth’s family in Mexico was kept informed and involved with developments, decision making and arrangements. The body of Santiz Cruz is departing today from JFK in New York and will arrive in Villahermosa, Tabasco late Sunday night. On Monday the VTMFSP delegates who have been invited to meet Santiz Cruz’s family and accompany them back to San Isidro will participate in a funeral service in which the entire village is expected to be present.

One goal of the delegation to San Isidro is to meet with the family and community to get to know the untold story of the life of the young migrant farmworker and see and hear first hand who he was, what he hoped for, and why he came here. Over the course of the past weeks VTMFSP has been meeting with community members of Santiz Cruz’s Tojolabal indigenous community here in Vermont and we were told just 2 days ago by one worker that there may be as many as 300 migrant farmworkers workers from the area of Las Margaritas that are currently living and working here in VT. Furthermore, as Teran explains, many migrant farmworkers here in Vermont come from indigenous communities in southern Mexico including in this case the Mayan Tojolabal. “The Tojolabal endure extraordinary hardships and, in the case of José Obeth Santiz Cruz, even death. Their contributions go unnoticed and unappreciated by the general public. Few people even know they are here and even fewer are aware that many workers here are from indigenous communities and some even speak Spanish as a second language. We are traveling to Chiapas because we want to make their presence visible and their contributions to the survival of Vermont dairy industry known. We also seek to promote a dialogue between these two affected communities.”

Teran, continues, “The Tojolabal are in Vermont because they cannot make it on their own farms. They abandon their lands and their family behind because of failed national and international trade and agricultural policies and paradoxically find themselves here in Vermont contributing to the survival of farmers in Vermont, also affected by these same corporate-driven trade and agricultural policies that favor corporate agribusiness.”

José Obeth Santiz Cruz is one of approximately 2,000 migrant farm workers who have come to the aid of struggling Vermont Dairy Farms in crisis and yet despite their essential contributions to Vermont due to an unjust and broken U.S. immigration system they are forced to live and in this case die in fear, silence and in the shadows. In the state of Vermont and throughout the United States the invisible hands that milk so many of our cows and pick so many of our vegetables, which literally puts the food on the table, live and die invisibly without the dignity and respect that all human beings deserve.

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