Indigenous Languages Replace Spanish in Oregon Fields

Gabriela Rico, Statesman Journal (Salem, Or.), Nov. 12

Just as the Oregon employment department was feeling confident that it offered enough Spanish-speaking farmworker liaisons, everything changed.

In the Willamette Valley fields, a growing number of migrant workers arrive speaking Mixteco, Triqui and Zapoteco, indigenous languages from Oaxaca.

“Pretty soon, you won’t need me in this job,” said Daniel Quiñones, a Spanish-speaking farmworkers representative with the Oregon Employment Department.

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“Our job is to educate them that they have rights,” he said. “A lot of them don’t know that they have rights in the United States.”

Enforcing minimum-wage laws, workplace safety and child labor laws all are the responsibility of the state, Quiñones said.

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In response to the phenomena, the Oregon Law Center started an outreach program three years ago.

The Indigenous Farmworker Project of the Oregon Law Center employs three trilingual outreach workers to communicate with migrant workers and offer legal services, said Julie Samples, an attorney with the Oregon Law Center.

One initiative involved putting wage and hour laws and workplace safety information on audio cassettes in these indigenous languages—the best way to reach migrant workers from Oaxaca who either don’t read or speak languages without a common written equivalent.

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