In January 2008, I took a group of Equal Exchange staff to Chiapas, Mexico to learn about some of the current realities that indigenous rural communities there are facing and to visit with one of our small farmer coffee co-operative partners, CIRSA. Mike Mowry, Quality Control Technician, was one of the participants on that trip. The following is a reflection from Mike along with a song that he wrote about his experience, recorded by his band, The Stress.
There are many things I could write about from the Equal Exchange staff trip to Chiapas, Mexico back in January of ’08, so finding a place to start can be a little intimidating. As someone who has a deep-seated passion for coffee, my initial excitement about this trip was geared mostly around what I wanted to learn from our farmer-partners in terms of the intense work that goes into the coffee harvest, processing, and export. As I hope consumers know, the work is back-breaking, labor intensive, and to top it all off, highly dependent on swift and exact timing. But besides what I learned about coffee harvesting, I walked away from that trip with far more.
I left Chiapas with a deeper understanding of the real consequences of NAFTA, and the negative effects of free trade on small farmers and their communities. While massive factory farms in the United States enjoy the benefits of government subsidies, small, rural farmers all over Mexico and Central America find the gap between their food supply and their means of controlling it growing further and further apart. While genetically modified and state subsidized American corn hits Mexican markets at prices lower than it costs for Mexicans to sell their own, you have to ask yourself “what’s wrong with this picture?” “How did we get here?”
As a musician, I felt it important to write something about the experiences of those in Mexico for whom the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement was the last straw. That’s the focus of the song “1994”, which I wrote with my band about a year after I returned from the trip to Chiapas to visit with one of our small farmer co-operative trading partners: Las Comunidades Indígenas de La Región de Simojovel de Allende; or CIRSA, for short. The song focuses on the struggles of small farmers in Mexico, and the indigenous rebellion which exploded on January 1st, 1994 following the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
We hope that you enjoy the song.
Please feel free to share it with friends or family.
About The Stress:
The Stress is a four piece traditional ska, rocksteady and reggae band from Providence, RI and Boston, MA. We take influence from a range of musicians; from traditional Jamaican music to 1960’s British Invasion rock. If you’d like to hear more of The Stress, please feel free to check out our website.