In both the fields of labor law and gender studies, we learn the most from experience. The experience of workers coming together to demand equality and respect and the experience of women coming together to share their experiences has led to most of what we study in these fields. Unfortunately, too many times traditional legal doctrine does not fit these experiences. In those cases, we must struggle to change the law to be responsive to the lived experiences of women and workers. This Article explores the lived experiences of one particular group of workers—immigrant farmworking women in California. From their experience, there are many lessons we can draw to make the law more responsive for all workers, but especially for all female immigrant workers. The study of immigrant women workers demands an understanding that issues of work, class, gender, race, and immigration status are all inextricably intertwined. The problems which a California female farmworker confronts on a daily basis are both a combination and a result of doing fieldwork, living in poverty, being a woman, having children, being a Mexican, and lacking work authorization. Analyzing only one of these issues misanalyzes her life. Unfortunately, the law in this area is very fragmented. The problems are analyzed independently, which usually prevents progress in solving these problems. Occasionally, however, the workers themselves and their advocates have crafted responses to these problems that draw on the multiple aspects of these workers' lives, finding strength and solutions using the same combination of identity factors. One main lesson we can learn from the fields, then, is the importance of what I call identity-based organizing. Identity-based organizing takes into account all the aspects of a person that are integral to his or her identity. These aspects include personal identity factors, such as a person's race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship status, community, sexual orientation, and religion. They also include class identity factors, such as a person's job, social class, career, income, and wealth. For immigrants to the United States, their identity is also affected by their children's class identity and their own class identity in their country of origin. Identity-based organizing “means recognizing the personal as well as the class identity of workers, including workers of colour; and recognizing also that these two different types of identity are interrelated, both in defining the oppression faced by workers and in finding solutions to it.”
Maria L. Ontiveros,
Lessons From the Fields: Female Farmworkers and the Law,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol55/iss1/8