NMSU honors farm workers in border regions with art installation

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KTSM) – New Mexico State University on Tuesday presented an art installation honoring farm workers in border regions and two decades of the Migrant Assistance Program (CAMP) of the NMSU.

The installation, “Mariposas Campesinas: Love Letters to our Farmworkers,” is a project for the J. Paul Taylor Symposium on Social Justice and will be on display to the public until October 15 on the west side of Milton Hall.

The installation consists of three hundred butterflies made by students. The art installation opened on Tuesday, October 12 under the name “Dia de la Raza”.

“This day is meant to remind us and teach that everyone is worthy of respect, honor and dignity,” said Martha Estrada, director of CAMP. “In 2020, we praised the farm workers as heroes for feeding the nation. The work they do is essential, always, not just in times of crisis. “

For 20 years, CAMP has served students who are children of migrant and seasonal farm workers or students who have been farm workers. To help them make the transition to the college environment as freshmen, these students receive a $ 1,500 scholarship, book stipends and meal allowances, as well as mentorship and support by their peers, especially from Yvette Cortes, first year CAMP counselor.

CAMP was one of eight programs nationwide that received a $ 2.1 million five-year grant in 2017 from the Office of Migrant Education at the United States Agency of Education. Funding for the program will be renewed again in 2022.

For the 2020-2021 freshman cohort, CAMP students had a retention rate of 93% after their first year at NMSU, said Cynthia Bejarano, regent professor and principal investigator of the grant, while 70% of CAMP graduates remained in the New Mexico workforce. .

“Justice for Farmworkers” was the theme of the J. Paul Taylor Symposium on Social Justice in 2020. Although the symposium has been postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions and held virtually in 2021, plans for the art installation “Mariposas Campesinas: Love Letters to our Agricultural Workers,” continued.

“The CAMP Student Council has partnered with the J. Paul Taylor Academy to create an art exhibit for this event,” said Ricardo Trejo, CAMP Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator. “The CAMP student council, myself and other CAMP students created a lesson plan and presented it to the J. Paul Taylor Academy art teacher. She liked it and scheduled us to go into the classroom to lead these workshops.

These workshops included discussions on the importance of farm work, what farm work is, a historical overview of farm work, and how farm work relates to the economy of southern New Mexico and the United States. entire United States.

Of the four planned workshops, they were able to do three between March 5 and March 12, 2020, before “the whole world stopped” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trejo said.

A collage of cutouts of monarch butterflies decorated with artwork by college students at the academy and personal messages written by students to farm workers was said to have been on display at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Museum and then given individually to farm workers in the border region. The pandemic canceled those plans.

As a result, the work is now displayed outside the CAMP offices at Milton Hall on the NMSU campus. Over 300 butterfly pieces were provided and collected by Las Cruces-based artist Jesús Del Río, a first generation immigrant, former farm worker, CAMP alumnus and current NMSU art major.

“The structure will be a standing structure, 14 feet by eight feet by six, and it will feature the butterflies from the J. Paul Taylor Symposium,” said Del Río, adding that the construction of the exhibit took about two weeks.

Butterflies aren’t just students of the J. Paul Taylor Academy. In addition to submissions from schools in the area, butterflies have also come from as far away as the Philippines, thanks to Cynthia Bartow, CAMP’s administrative assistant, who was raised there.

“Growing up in a third world country, I witnessed poverty and the lack of opportunities to grow up and be successful in life with my own eyes,” Bartow said. “My parents worked hard so that we could all go to college and graduate, so we could have better lives. But even if you have a degree, there just aren’t enough jobs for everyone. I have learned to work tirelessly day and night and to take every opportunity to work, even if I have to travel far from home.

Bartow started working with CAMP in January 2021. She initially moved to Las Cruces from the Philippines in 2016 and said she could understand the challenges farm families face.

“They try to get all the opportunities they can and would take any farming job, no matter how hard or difficult it is. If they need to be away from their families or in the scorching sun, they do it anyway, ”Bartow said. “Working with CAMP has given me the opportunity to help children who are going through the same difficulties of missing their families, of being alone in a totally different environment. “

For Trejo, the work he does with CAMP is more than a job.

“I come from a family of seasonal farm workers,” Trejo said. “My parents are Mexican. They took us to the farms when we were little and when I was growing up I helped them on the farms so this job is not just something I do professionally but it’s very close to home . When I talk to students and community members about the importance of farm work, it is part of me and has created my identity.

For Del Río, the opportunity to build the structure gives him the chance to channel his identity as the son of a migrant worker and a queer Latino artist.

“I started working in agriculture when I was 16,” said Del Río. “This project is to pay homage to farm workers, and I am able to do it because of my experience.”

The decorated butterfly cutouts used in the installation have symbolic meaning.

“Many immigrant rights activists use the butterfly to symbolize the natural flow of migration,” Trejo said. “But just as butterflies are important to the environment, migrant farm workers are important to our community and our economy.”

“When we created these butterflies, they reminded us to be grateful to those whose hands literally nourish us,” Estrada said. “We hope this exhibit leaves a lasting impression that will always remind us to honor and respect hard work and the people who do that work.”

Once the installation is complete, the students and staff at CAMP plan to personally pass the butterfly messages to the farm workers.

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