Hidden Tapestries of Lived Experiences: The Commodification of Latin American Migrant Workers in Canada

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:54 PM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Elise HAHN , Political Science, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, BC, Canada
Ruochen SUN , Sociology, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, BC, Canada
This paper will explore how the complex lived experiences and plural identities of Latin American agricultural migrant workers participating in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) are reduced to very narrow representations in the Canadian racial imaginary. Although our interactions with workers have revealed their lives to be rich tapestries of experience, love, fear, regret, and complex familial ties, popular perceptions of migrant workers remain negatively racialized, gendered and classed. We argue that this suppression of workers’ individual histories in the Canadian imaginary is a key component in legitimizing and maintaining the commodification of migrant labour and, by extension, transnational systems of exploitation. In turn, these processes of inscription serve as hidden mechanisms of social and spatial control, shaping the ways that the Canadian public interacts with migrant workers and the degree to which migrants are considered part of the Canadian communities in which they live and work. Motivation for this project was sparked through the relationships we have built with migrants in our work with a grassroots migrant worker support network in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. This paper is also informed in part by a 2012 case study of Mexican migrant workers in Canada’s largest cherry orchard conducted by Elise Hahn on behalf of the Lake Country Heritage and Cultural Society. In conjunction with our paper, ten original photographs of migrant workers in the Okanagan Valley, products of the aforementioned case study, will be presented. Together, these experiences have challenged our pre-conceived notions of who migrant workers are, the lives they lead, and their cognizance of the racialized processes to which they are subject in Canada.