Lost in translation “en el Fil”: Actualizing structural humility for Indigenous Mexican farmworkers in California

Perdidos en la traducción «en el Fil»: La materialización de la humildad estructural para los trabajadores agrícolas indígenas mexicanos en California


This study demonstrates how we espoused a structural competent point of reference and operationalized the concept of structural humility for the purposes of conducting a communication evaluation strategy in support of California farmworkers. Strengthened by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and the principles of critical race theory, a two-phase qualitative research process was developed to understand whether state agency resources were adequately addressing workplace vulnerabilities in the agricultural fields. We conducted, first, a comprehensive content analysis of labor educational resources and, second, a series of focus groups with California Labor Agency staff, community advocacy organizations, and farmworkers of Mestizo and Indigenous Mexican origin. This study makes a significant contribution to structural humility scholarship, addressing the structural systems of power that perpetuate the marginalization of immigrant and Indigenous farmworkers. The methodology and findings advance support for organizations that work with immigrant and Indigenous populations and seek to interrogate sociopolitical inequities.


Este estudio muestra cómo adoptamos un punto de referencia estructural competente e implementamos el concepto de humildad estructural a fin de llevar a cabo una estrategia evaluativa de la comunicación en apoyo a los trabajadores agrícolas en California. Respaldados por la obra de Paulo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed y los principios de la teoría racial crítica, desarrollamos un proceso cualitativo en dos fases para entender si los recursos de las agencias estatales estaban abordando adecuadamente las vulnerabilidades en los campos agrícolas. Primero, realizamos un análisis abarcador del contenido de los recursos educativos laborales y luego implementamos una serie de grupos focales con personal de las agencias laborales de California, organizaciones de defensa comunitaria y trabajadores agrícolas de origen mestizo e indígena mexicano. Este estudio aporta significativamente a los estudios sobre la humildad estructural y aborda los sistemas estructurales del poder que perpetúan la marginalización de los trabajadores agrícolas inmigrantes e indígenas. La metodología y los hallazgos promueven el apoyo a las organizaciones que trabajan con poblaciones inmigrantes e indígenas y procuran cuestionar las desigualdades sociopolíticas.

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  1. 1.

    Farmworkers earn on average between $12,500 and $14,999 a year; farmworker families average $17,500 to $19,999 (Hernandez and Gabbard 2019).

  2. 2.

    “En el fil” (in the fields) is a colloquial phrase in Spanish referring to both the location and nature of farm work.

  3. 3.

    The LWDA is an executive branch agency, and the secretary is a member of the governor’s cabinet. This agency oversees seven major departments, boards, and panels that serve California businesses and workers, including the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, Department of Industrial Relations, Employment Development Department, California Workforce Development Board, Public Employment Relations Board, Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, and Employment Training Panel.

  4. 4.

    These best practices were also shared in a community workshop, “Cultural Sensitivity: Capacity to Understand, Respect, and Value Other Cultures,” conducted by Leoncio Vasquez for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Watsonville, California, in 2017.

  5. 5.

    In particular, Jennifer Hernandez, the past associate secretary for farmworker and immigrant services at the LWDA, is an advocate for advancing equitable services for immigrant and Indigenous populations.

  6. 6.

    The research team comprised a principal investigator, two authors, a postdoctoral fellow, a research coordinator, and two undergraduate research assistants. The authors are labor scholars who espouse emancipatory perspectives and have extensive experience working with immigrant populations, including Indigenous Peoples.

  7. 7.

    The LWDA and State Labor Agency Focus Groups took place on 10 May 2018. Nineteen participants represented the following state labor agencies: Department of Industrial Relations, Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and the Employment Development Department. Two focus groups were conducted with partner organizations on 12 May 2018 and 18 May 2018. Fifteen participants represented the following partner organizations: Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project, Puente, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, and the Red de Justicia Ambiental. A total of 19 farmworkers participated in these focus groups; 9 spoke an Indigenous language.


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We wish to acknowledge and thank Lucero Herrera, Lily Hernandez, and Rosali Jurado, who were part of the UCLA Labor Center Research Team that was tasked with collecting and reviewing educational resources for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. We are also grateful to Julie Monroe for her editorial assistance. Our deepest gratitude to a group of extraordinary Indigenous intellectuals who guided the Spanish to Indigenous language translations for this study: Odilia Romero (Zapotec), Claudio Hernández (Mixtec), Celerina Patricia Sánchez (Mixtec), Norma Trinidad (Triqui), Policarpo Chaj (Maya K’iche’) and Israel Vásquez-Nicolas (Mixtec).

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Camacho, S., Rivera-Salgado, G. Lost in translation “en el Fil”: Actualizing structural humility for Indigenous Mexican farmworkers in California. Lat Stud 18, 531–557 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41276-020-00279-z

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  • Structural humility
  • Farmworkers
  • Indigenous
  • Labor rights
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Palabras claves

  • Humildad estructural
  • Trabajadores agrícolas
  • Indígenas
  • Derechos laborales
  • Teoría racial crítica
  • Pedagogía del oprimido