Luis Mendoza ¡PRESENTE! – Migrant Farmworker Leader

“I met Luis about 8 years ago. He was very interested in creating a network of fellow agricultural workers so that together we could fight and organize about injustices that workers go through.

Luis and I would talk to our coworkers, who little by little were uniting and sympathizing and empathizing with this fight. We made a small group and I remember him always enthusiastic, always trying to convince his coworkers, sometimes getting disappointed but he was always very convincing, always very firm. 

He was convinced of the importance and value of the participation of us women in this matter of organizing ourselves. He knew that we women have a lot of strength, a lot of power. And also the very difficult stories that women live in this program – he understood the reasons why we make the difficult decision to leave our children.

Our friend Luis planted the seed, now the tree is growing a little. The rest depends on all of us. This is not easy work, it is meticulous work but it is worth it so we can pave the way for those who come after us and for the ones going through the struggle.

This is a loss not only of a person – a good comrade left us, a good friend left us, a social fighter left us. Someone with a lot of hope that the workers will organize and fight. The important thing is that we continue with the work that he always wanted. The fight goes on and this is the best way to celebrate him. ¡La lucha sigue!”

Ana, Migrant Farmworker

It was June 2019. In a church basement in Niagara, federal government officials met with 40 farmworker members of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. 

The federal government wanted to talk about slight modifications to the employer-dependent work permit, which would change the name but keep the exploitation in place. Leading the workers was Luis Mendoza, a long-time farmworker and activist, who played an integral and active role in establishing Migrant Workers Alliance for Change in the Niagara region.

When Luis began to speak, the entire room went quiet. Everyone knew Luis. 

I have been coming to work in the SAWP program for 24 years. Today I want to tell you that I have given 24 years of my life to this country so Canada owes me something, Canada owes migrant farm workers something. We are owed permanent resident status.

On May 19, 2021, Luis Mendoza died from complications due to COVID-19 in Mexico. After coming to Canada for nearly 30 years, he was not able to return this season. Luis wanted one day for his family and his children to join him in Canada, the country where he spent the majority of his life. He died without Canada paying back what it owed him.

A natural born leader, Luis helped facilitate meetings of over forty farmworkers in June and July 2018. In a meeting with the federal government in August of that year, he read a joint statement written by the workers. 

Once he had finished reading, he added: 

I want to emphasize – why do the employers only want cheap labour? They want workers to come but they do not want to pay the proper salaries. Many of us get sick. We have to pay when we go to the hospital. They want labour but they do not want to pay. 

We are still living in slavery in the 21st century. Many of us have grown here, raised our families, but we demand that the government change the conditions of work. Many of the services we want and deserve are only available with PR.

Luis knew that the only way for migrants to ensure dignity was to organize. He encouraged his fellow workers to unite and speak out to demand equal rights, dignity, and justice. Luis was not one to be quiet about prioritizing workers’ needs and voices. He offered strong critiques on labour unions and activist groups and he made sure they were heard.

In 2019, when Pioneer farms, where Luis worked, caught fire, and farmworker housing was destroyed, Luis helped organize the workers and make sure everyone was taken care of. In 2020, when a COVID-19 outbreak hit the farm, Luis was there, supporting the workers, keeping them organized. One of his last actions as an MWAC member was building an ofrenda – an altar – for Day of the Dead on the front steps of a local MP’s office to honour farm workers who died from COVID-19 and to demand Status For All.

In June 2020, to launch a cross-country campaign for Status For All, Luis said:

To this day, I have not seen any improvement in the treatment of agricultural workers. The precarious living conditions for the most part remain the same. The discrimination and racism with which we are treated by some employers has not changed! In Canada there are people who don’t even know we exist, that we are human. We, the invisible, grow the fruit and vegetables you eat and even the flowers on your table, but we lack the choice to leave bad jobs and resist the injustices inflicted upon us by abusive employers who treat us like slaves. I think that Canada owes us something and that this is the opportunity for it to pay its debt by giving us Permanent Residence. We leave behind our sweat here, working from sunrise to sunset. We have contributed to the development and economic growth of Canada. I think that what is just is that all migrants have access to Permanent Residence. Join us and call the prime minister to demand status now!!!

And yet, after a quarter century of working in fields and farms, when he was sick, he didn’t get the healthcare he paid for here. Canada gave him nothing. But Luis helped establish an organization of migrant farm workers. He died, and his work for dignity and liberation lives on.

We will not rest until Luis’s dream comes to fruition, and each and every one of us that labours in the field has the same rights, dignity, and permanent resident status as any other person. 

We say goodbye to Luis, but we know he remains in the struggle with us. Luis Mendoza ¡PRESENTE!

You can donate to support Luis’s family here: