Written by FFAC’s Executive Director, Katie Cantrell, who traveled to Mexico for the first week of the Justice Without Boundaries tour. If this article is TL;DR, check out this post that sums up the highlights of the tour.
As activists, the work that we do is at once personal and global. The mindsets that lay the foundation for oppression begin on an individual level and are expressed on a systemic scale. Likewise, the solution to these problems starts within ourselves; by addressing these issues internally, our compassion can resonate around the world. This has never been more obvious to me than while on the Justice Without Boundaries tour.
Justice Without Boundaries was primarily organized by a single activist, Gerardo Alvarado, who was raised in Mexico and now lives in the United States. He brought together a coalition of organizations and individuals to form the first ever Justice Without Boundaries tour.
Gerardo originally contacted FFAC to translate our presentation into Spanish for use with Latino communities in the United States, and for the Justice Without Boundaries tour in Mexico. I was thrilled when I heard about the project, and wanted to be personally involved in the tour. Thus, six months later, I found myself on a plane to Mexico City.
Much like FFAC, Justice Without Boundaries strives to highlight the intersection of many different justice issues. There are very direct connections between factory farming in the U.S. and Mexico:
- Smithfield Foods, a U.S. company and the world’s largest pork producer, has expanded its operations into Mexico. This has profound consequences for local communities, driving small-scale farmers out of business, causing severe health problems, and polluting and depleting local resources. Humane Society International details Smithfield’s effects on Mexico.
- Free-trade agreements like NAFTA have resulted in a flood of cheap products into Mexican markets, driving local producers out of business and shifting the food system from its traditional base. U.S. corporations further exploit this situation by recruiting unemployed Mexican farmers and workers to work in U.S. slaughterhouses. The Nation has a wonderful article on this topic.
Other connections are slightly more abstract. Neo-colonialism is in effect in Mexico, where U.S. corporations like McDonalds and KFC spread conceptions that traditional Mexican foods are inferior. As a result of cultural and economic imperialism, healthier, local staples are becoming increasingly more expensive and difficult to find. To make matters worse, they’re being replaced by products that cause the same health crises we are seeing in the United States: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
Tour member Eduardo Siller giving the FFAC presentation in Guadalajara.
Justice Without Boundaries seeks to educate people about the impacts of animal agriculture, while also providing tools to address these issues. Activists presented a Spanish-language version of the FFAC presentation, vegan cooking demos using traditional regional ingredients, and workshops on effective activism skills like public speaking and organizing.
The education is not just unidirectional. Tour members were encouraged to spend as much time as possible talking with local residents and activists to hear their stories and learn about their work, their passions, their challenges, and their perspectives. Mexican voices are often so marginalized in the U.S. that gaining a firsthand understanding (or rather, a first step towards understanding) was one of the most valuable outcomes of the tour for me.
For the week I was there, the tour crew consisted of 6 members from Mexico and 7 members from the United States. Together we had quite a range of activism experience. There were several members from animal activism groups, two members who came directly from the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas, and two others from an organization they started in Guadalajara that provides bicycles to the Huichol people of Central Mexico.
JWB crew at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Cuernavaca campus.
Israel Arriola, a member of Anima Naturalis, a Spanish animal activism group that now has a large presence in Mexico, was the Mexican tour coordinator for the week that I was there. He graciously hosted us in Texcoco, a town 45-minutes outside of Mexico City, and organized many of the speaking events.
One of the most difficult elements was group dynamics. We were a group of a dozen people who share the same passions, but come from varying ideological and experiential backgrounds. Establishing a common understanding of how to organize our daily activities and create accountability was difficult but essential.
We knew that in order for our work to have any credibility or viability, we had to begin by honoring our ideals within ourselves. The anti-oppression nature of our work had to begin by ensuring that the group followed a consensus process and created a safe space for all voices to be heard. Even the smallest details, like what hand signals to use during meetings, were important for establishing a sustainable foundation for our activism.
I could probably write another blog post of equal length with the many things I learned while in Mexico, but these are a few of the most relevant points:
- Activism is thriving in Mexico.
- One common misperception I’ve encountered since returning to the United States is that Mexico doesn’t have much activism. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
- The activism training I led was attended by over 30 people, of all ages and backrounds. Every single one volunteered to practice speaking in front of the group, which is a feat I’m not sure I would have encountered in the U.S.
- There are at least two large organizations working on animal issues in Mexico City.
- There is also a good deal of direct action. While we were there, one of the tour members participated in a protest in which people chained themselves to trees in a park that was going to be demolished. The mayor later agreed to save the park.
- Vegetarianism is popular and easy in Mexico City
- The term “vegan” isn’t widely known, but “vegetarian” is used to represent both vegetarian and vegan. People didn’t give us strange looks or snarky comments for requesting food sin queso or sin crema.
- There are many vegetarian restaurants.
- With delicious fillings like potato, nopales (cactus), black beans, and avocado, it’s easy to get vegetarian options from street vendors.
- In certain parts of Mexico, fruits and vegetables are much more abundant and affordable than in the United States
- In Texcoco, we could walk 50 feet from our hotel to a small mercado that sold fresh-squeezed orange juice, a wide variety of vegetables, and all the mango and avocado we could eat.
- Street vendors sell flavored nuts and dried fruit.
- However, as mentioned under the “issues” section, in other parts of Mexico fresh fruits and vegetables are becoming increasingly harder to find and more expensive.
- People are eager for cross-movement collaboration
- Through events and discussions, we made connections to a huge variety of people. Everyone from environmental activists to vegan pop-up restaurant chefs wanted to talk about these issues and collaborate.
- In fact, there were so many offers to have us come speak that if we had accepted them all we would have had over 100 events in less than 50 days.
- There was such a strong positive response that the plan is to make JWB an annual event.
There will be a write-up of the whole six-week long tour soon, but for now you can view this post that summarizes the events we led and attended during our week with the tour. You can also view photos from the tour on our Facebook.