Skip to main content

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


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

  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. 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. 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. 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. 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.


  • Beach, M.C., E.G. Price, T.L. Gary, K.A. Robinson, A. Gozu, A. Palacio, C. Smarth, et al. 2005. Cultural Competency: A Systematic Review of Health Care Provider Educational Interventions. Medical Care 43 (4): 356–373.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beagan, B.L. 2003. Teaching Social and Cultural Awareness to Medical Students: “It’s All Very Nice to Talk about It in Theory, But Ultimately It Makes No Difference.” Academic Medicine 78 (6): 605–614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bell, D. 2004. Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Boyatzi, R.E. 1998. Transforming Qualitative Information: Thematic Analysis and Code Development. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2019. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2018. Economic News Release, 17 December. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • California Department of Food and Agriculture. 2017. California Agricultural Statistics Review 2016–2017. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • California Research Bureau. 2013. Farmworkers in California: A Brief Introduction. CRB Short Subjects S-13-017, October.  Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Caprariello, P.A., A.J.C. Cuddy, and S.T. Fiske. 2009. Social Structure Shapes, Cultural Stereotypes and Emotions: A Causal Test of the Stereotype Content Model. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations 12 (2): 147–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Carpenter-Song, E.A., M.N. Schwallie, and J. Longhofer. 2007. Cultural Competence Reexamined: Critique and Directions for the Future. Psychiatric Services 58 (10): 1362–1365.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Crenshaw, K.W. 1988. Race, Reform, and Retrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law. Harvard Law Review 101 (7): 1331–1387.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farquhar, S., J. Samples, S. Ventura, S. Davis, M. Abernathy, L. McCauley, N. Cuilwik, and N. Shadbeh. 2008a. Promoting the Occupational Health of Indigenous Farmworkers. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health 10 (3): 269–280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farquhar, S., N. Shadbeh, J. Samples, S. Ventura, and N. Goff. 2008b. Occupational Conditions and Well-Being of Indigenous Farmworkers. American Journal of Public Health 98 (11): 1956–1959.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fox, J., and G. Rivera-Salgado (eds.). 2004. Indigenous Mexican Migrants in the United States. La Jolla: UCSD Center for U.S.–Mexican Studies and Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freire, P. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garcia, A., and J. Sanjuan. 2013. Indigenous Farmworkers in Oaxacalifornia: How Current Laws Affect Their Lives and Prospects after Immigration Reform. Centro Binacional Para el Desarollo Indigena Oaxaqueno, September. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Hansen, H., and J.M. Metzl (eds.). 2019. Structural Competency in Mental Health and Medicine: A Case-Based Approach to Treating the Social Determinants of Health. Cham: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hernandez, T., and S. Gabbard. 2019. Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2015–2016: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farmworkers. Research Report No. 13. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Hester, R.J. 2012. The Promise and Paradox of Cultural Competence. HEC Forum 24 (4): 279–291.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hester, R.J. 2015. Cultural Competency Training and Indigenous Cultural Politics in California. Latino Studies 13 (3): 316–338.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hester, R.J. 2016. Culture in Medicine: An Argument Against Competence. In The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, ed. Anne Whitehead and Angela Woods, 541–558. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holmes, S. 2013. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía). 2015. Principales Resultados de la Encuesta Intercensal 2015. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Jenks, A.C. 2011. From “Lists of Traits” to “Open-Mindedness”: Emerging Issues in Cultural Competence Education. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 35 (2): 200–235.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Judicial Council of California. 2015. Strategic Plan for Language Access in the California Courts. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Kleinman, A., and P. Benson. 2006. Anthropology in the Clinic: The Problem of Cultural Competency and How to Fix It. PLoS Medicine 3 (10): e294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kresge, L. 2007. Indigenous Oaxacan Communities in California: An Overview. California Institute for Rural Studies, November. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Kumas-Tan, Z., B. Beagan, C. Loppie, A. MacLeod, and B. Frank. 2007. Measures of Cultural Competence: Examining Hidden Assumptions. Academic Medicine 82 (6): 548–557.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kuo, E.C.Y., and H.E. Chew. 2009. Beyond Ethnocentrism in Communication Theory: Towards a Culture-Centric Approach. Asian Journal of Communication 19 (4): 422–437.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Matsuda, M.J. 1987. Looking to the Bottom: Critical Legal Studies and Reparations. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 22 (2): 324–399.

    Google Scholar 

  • Metzl, J.M. 2010. The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Metzl, J.M., and H. Hansen. 2014. Structural Competency: Theorizing a New Medical Engagement with Stigma and Inequality. Social Science and Medicine 103: 126–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mines, R., S. Nichols, and D. Runsten. 2010. California’s Indigenous Farmworkers. Final Report of the Indigenous Farmworker Study (IFS) to the California Endowment, January. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Mobed, K., E.B. Gold, and M.B. Schenker. 1992. Occupational Health Problems Among Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers. Western Journal of Medicine 157 (3): 367–373.

    Google Scholar 

  • Neff, J., K.R. Knight, S. Satterwhite, N. Nelson, J. Matthews, and S.M. Holmes. 2017. Teaching Structure: A Qualitative Evaluation of a Structural Competency Training for Resident Physicians. Journal of General Internal Medicine 32 (4): 430–433.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Neff, J., S.M. Holmes, S. Strong, G. Chin, J. De Avila, S. Dubal, and L.G. Duncan. 2019. The Structural Competency Working Group: Lessons from Iterative, Interdisciplinary Development of a Structural Competency Training Module. In Structural Competency in Mental Health and Medicine: A Case-Based Approach to Treating the Social Determinants of Health, ed. Helena Hansen and Jonathan M. Metzl, 53–74. Cham: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Oaxacalifornian Reporting Team. 2013. Voices of Indigenous Oaxacan Youth in the Central Valley: Creating Our Sense of Belonging in California, July. Santa Cruz: UCSC Center for Collaborative Research for an Equitable California (CCREC). Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Quesada, J. 2012. Special Issue Part II: Illegalization and Embodied Vulnerability in Health. Social Science and Medicine 74 (6): 894–896.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Quesada, J., L.K. Hart, and P. Bourgois. 2011. Structural Vulnerability and Health: Latino Migrant Laborers in the United States. Medical Anthropology 30 (4): 339–362.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rivera-Salgado, G., S. Camacho, L. Herrera, L. Hernandez, and R. Jurado. 2018. Farmworkers’ Communication Strategy, Language, and Training: Supporting the Development of Educational Resources for the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Los Angeles: UCLA Labor Center.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rivera-Salgado, G., and L.E. Rabadán. 2004. Collective Identity and Organizational Strategies of Indigenous and Mestizo Mexican Migrants. In Indigenous Mexican Migrants in the United States, ed. Jonathan Fox and Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, 145–178. La Jolla: UCSD Center for U.S.–Mexican Studies and Center for Comparative Immigration Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenbaum, S., and P. Shin. 2005. Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers: Health Insurance Coverage and Access to Care. Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Shaw, S.J. 2005. The Politics of Recognition in Culturally Appropriate Care. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 19 (3): 290–309.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Solorzano, D.G. 1998. Critical Race Theory, Race and Gender Microaggressions, and the Experience of Chicana and Chicano Scholars. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 11 (1): 121–136.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, J.S. 2003. Confronting “Culture” in Medicine’s “Culture of No Culture.” Academic Medicine 78 (6): 555–559.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tervalon, M., and J. Murray-Garcia. 1998. Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competence: A Critical Distinction in Defining Physician Training Outcomes in Multicultural Education. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 9 (2): 117–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Varney, S. 2017. Health Risks to Farmworkers Increase as Workforce Ages. National Public Radio, 1 December. Accessed Dec 2019.

  • Villarejo, D., D. Lighthall, D. Williams III., A. Souther, R. Mines, B. Bade, S. Samuels, and S. McCurdy. 2000. Suffering in Silence: A Report on the Health of California’s Agricultural Workers. Davis: California Institute for Rural Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams, P.J. 1992. The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


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).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sayil Camacho.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • 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