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Speaking Up for Ourselves: How US Trade Agreements Punish Mexico’s Poor

Baldemar Velasquez

By Sandra Cisneros

Only Divine Providence can write a story as astonishing as that of Baldemar Velásquez. Born into a family of migrant farmworkers, Velásquez worked in the US Midwest from the age of five alongside his parents and siblings, picking sugar beets and tomatoes and living in deplorable workers’ housing, including chicken coops. He witnessed the cycle of poverty that trapped his family: owing their employers more than they earned, working just to pay off their debt. This motivated Velasquez to organize and defend farmworkers in campaigns inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez.

On Tuesday, as part of the PEN 2018 lecture series, Baldemar Velásquez will show, in English and Spanish, how NAFTA has pushed people into poverty, displaced communities, and forced migration. He will also show how labor and community groups have created policies to resist these global inequities. An inspirational speaker on both sides of the border, Velasquez will also show a short video and conclude the evening with live music and original songs.

For his commitment to justice and human dignity, Velásquez is internationally recognized today as a leader in the farmworker and immigrant rights movements. His honors include a MacArthur Fellowship (the “genius grant”) and the Aguila Azteca, the highest award Mexico can bestow on a noncitizen.

As president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), which he co-founded with his father, Velasquez is a labor luminary, setting international precedents by unionizing and empowering the most marginalized workers. He was the first to represent H2A international guest workers under a labor agreement. Velasquez has also worked on providing FLOC members education, food and fuel cooperatives, a legal clinic, health care, housing, and child daycare. Under Velasquez’s leadership, FLOC has achieved historic breakthroughs in contract negotiations by understanding the needs of both the employers and workers, unique in Midwest labor history.

The first member of his family to graduate from college, Velásquez has a BA in Sociology from Bluffton College in Ohio, an advanced degree in theology from Florida International Seminary, and several honorary doctorates. In 2009, he was elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council.

As a singer-songwriter, he has recorded two albums, of which 100 percent of the proceeds go to the nonprofit Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice (CMWJ). The CMWJ is an education and training organization that partners with the FLOC in its campaigns to bring justice to farmworkers and immigrant workers.

San Miguel PEN is a chapter of PEN International, the organization of writers who fight for freedom of expression around the world. The 150 peso admission helps fund local activities and includes a free glass of wine with dinner afterwards at Vivali, across the street at Hernandez Macias 66. Tickets at Ticket Central in the Biblioteca or at the door. For more information, visit



2018 PEN Winter Lecture Series presents

“Speaking Up for Ourselves:

How US Trade Agreements Punish Mexico’s Poor”

By Baldemar Velásquez

Tue, Jan 30, 6pm

Bellas Artes Auditorium

Hernández Macías 75

150 pesos

In English and Spanish

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