The New Mexico Chile Industry
The chile industry of New Mexico is the most prosperous and popular in the world. The society of New Mexico provides unconditional support to this industry which brings hundreds of millions of dollars to a few chile producers and to a handful of greedy corporations. Everybody celebrates the quality and the "nice" price of the chile and all its relative products, such as the "picante" sauce.
New Mexico produces two-thirds of all the chile consumed in this country.
Chile has become such a beneficial product that each year, New Mexico organizes "The Chile Festival" in the village of Hatch, some 70 miles north of El Paso. Besides this, there is an annual conference, symposiums and the establishment of the Chile Institute to promote and develop the chile industry. This institute is planning to build an International Chile Museum in Las Cruces. Also, a nationally distributed magazine, devoted to chile "fans" is published in New Mexico.
But, this prosperity has benefited only a handful of chile growers that, over the years, have acquired large land holdings such as Franzoy, Anderson, Killer, Hackey, Carson, etc. Various corporations have also benefited from the prosperity of the chile industry including, "Bueno" Foods, Biad Chile, Co., Cal-Compack Foods, Cervantes Chile, etc.
This industry is also based on shameful, inhumane exploitation. About 15,000 chile pickers, including women and children, the majority from Mexico, are the foundation of the chile industry.
They work hard, long days exceeding eight hours under extreme weather conditions for very low wages. These meager earnings don't permit them to provide the most basic needs for their families.
Chile pickers get paid by "piece" rate for what they each produce. For example, for each bucket of "California" without stem, the chile picker receives one plastic chip. Each chip is worth 60 cents. In order for a picker to make at least the Minimum Wage they have to fill eight buckets, which contain about 40 pounds of product, then carry it to a trailer to be unloaded every single hour.
The recruitment of the workers takes place at midnight in South El Paso. The chile pickers leave to the fields at about three o'clock in the morning. They start working at about 6 a.m. and finish at around 4 p.m. They return to El Paso and arrive at about 6 p.m. In other words, over sixteen hours spent earning a miserable wage.
But low wages are not the only problem. The most serious problems faced by chile pickers are those related to their health.
In the past 6 years, the chile producers have been using more and more chemicals to deal with crop diseases, such as the so-called pepper weevil, and to intensify production. They use pesticides such as Nemacur, Furadan (carbofuran), Methyl-Parathion, fungicides and herbicides. During this same period of time, we have noticed an alarming growth in health problems, especially skin diseases among chile pickers and their families.
Farmworkers lack housing or live in sub-standard housing. They are denied medical assistance and access to health programs. In New Mexico, they are excluded from Workers Compensation. They don't enjoy all of the benefits awarded to the rest of the population. Also, they are not allowed the opportunity to experience the prosperity and happiness produced by the chile in New Mexico.
The chile industry is unjust and it must change. You as a consumer should support efforts to bring equality and justice to the farmworkers of New Mexico.
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