Migrant farm workers put in long hours doing some of the most physically-demanding labour in the country — but one of the most jarring aspects of working in Canada could be the culture shock.
A new magazine, Atoctli, seeks to address these issues by providing Mexican workers with a resource to improve their communication when it comes to issues such as language and cultural barriers, work safety and overall well-being, explained director Margarita Caropresi.
The name comes from the Aztec word for fertile soil, said Caropresi, who used to work for the Mexican consulate in Toronto before doing a master’s degree in teaching Spanish as a second language.
Caropresi said the idea for the magazine, which is available in Spanish and English, came about after her thesis project on communication between Mexican migrant workers and the farmers who employ them, and a follow-up study on how migrant workers communicated outside of work.
“Through the research, I found there are these big issues that, to me, nobody had identified in the first place,” she said, noting things like saving water, using pesticides and even paying taxes were all knowledge gaps. “They are so important to address and I’m sure this will help to ease all the misunderstandings that people interpret to bad relationships or mistreatment or things like that. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not being able to communicate properly.”
The magazine is currently focused on Mexican migrant farm workers, Caropresi said, because she has had a lot of support from Mexican authorities, including the country’s Ministry of Labour and Social Well Being. That said, she is hoping to expand its scope and has travelled to Guatemala to spread awareness of the magazine, as well as been in contact with the Honduran embassy in Canada.
Farmers can print free magazine for workers
The free magazine, funded through Caropresi’s savings, advertisements and investors, is delivered to the Mexican ministry to be made available to workers before they come to Canada, and is also being promoted online to farmers hiring Mexican workers. Caropresi hopes the farmers will print it off and give it to their workers when they arrive.
In addition to the magazine, Atoctli gives presentations and hosts videos online.
“We have intercultural presentations where I have gone to municipal authorities to explain to them how to be aware of cultural differences and how to communicate better. These presentations are focused to help authorities, employers, co-workers, to help them to communicate better,” she said, adding that she wants to expand the magazine’s coverage to address the issues and cultural differences affecting workers coming to Canada from eastern Caribbean countries.
In 2011, almost 29,000 temporary foreign worker positions were issued under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, which brings in workers from Mexico and a handful of Caribbean countries to work all across Canada, except in the territories and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“When you are helping workers, you are helping farmers as well as authorities so they are more knowledgeable of their situation, their rights, how to communicate better, where to go in case they have any needs while in Canada, and this will help, in a big part I hope, most of the people involved in this program,” Caropresi said, adding that Mexican workers can pass the knowledge they learn from the magazine to others at home.
The magazine launched in July last year, and is now on its third issue.