ARVIN, Calif.— Around midday on a recent Thursday morning, a group of 20 Central Valley farmworkers walked out of a kale field, untied the bandanas they usually wear as facial protection and lined up to collect a free lunch.
Farmworker Norma Alvarado won the meal for her colleagues after entering the “Cuadrilla De La Semana” drawing hosted by her favorite radio station: Bakersfield’s 92.5-FM, La Campesina. Fifteen years ago, Alvarado emigrated from San Luis Potosi in central Mexico, and has worked in the fields of California’s Central Valley ever since, picking food—broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes—and religiously listening to La Campesina, not for the prizes or the Mexican music, but because of the singular role it plays in the life of the farmworker community.
Stop by any group of farmworkers here, and you’re likely to hear La Campesina. That’s as intended—the network was founded in 1983 by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers with the goal of reaching farmworkers in the fields, and it is operated today by the Cesar Chavez Foundation. But where Chavez originally dreamed of programming that would serve the needs of Spanish-speaking immigrants by educating them about workers’ rights, today’s political climate demands something different to serve the immigrant audience. Though it’s happened largely out of the view of the mainstream news media, throughout Western states, La Campesina has adapted to the political moment by becoming something like the immigrant community’s version of Radio Free Europe—a voice of idealistic defiance broadcasting in hostile territory—at a time of deep partisan animus toward Latinos. Now, with nine stations across four states—from Yuma, Arizona, in the south to the tri-cities of Washington in the north, broadcasting in both AM and FM—it reaches more than 1 million regular listeners, many of them immigrants working in hotels, restaurants, and manufacturing or food-processing plants.
While AM radio is often thought to be the turf of conservative talking heads, La Campesina’s KNAI is frequently the top-rated AM station in metropolitan Phoenix. In April, it had double the ratings of KFYI, the local station that carries Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, competing against those broadcasting titans with regional Mexican music, resistance-themed commentary en Español, and practical life tips for getting by as a Latino immigrant in Trump’s America.
Among Campesina’s most popular regular segments: advice on what to do if approached by an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For Alvarado, the radio contest winner, the prospect of being detained by ICE looms as her biggest fear. “We need to be on the lookout for la migra because they are going strong right now and they want us out of this country,” she says. It’s one of the main reasons she listens religiously to La Campesina: She and her colleagues carry a portable radio with them in the fields because they see the station as a lifeline.
That’s a role the radio network plays on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican listeners in San Luis Rio Colorado and Mexicali tune in to Yuma’s KCEC for its immigration-related programming. Other listeners as far south as Mexico City, Guatemala and El Salvador stream La Campesina’s programming online. All can hear tips on how to best avoid ICE and the resources available to them if they are detained.
“We are a beacon of hope for immigrants and people who are coming to the country who do not necessarily have their footings here or don’t necessarily know where to go for help,” says Cesar L. Chavez, grandson and namesake of the civil-rights leader and the general manager of La Campesina’s Bakersfield station for the past six years. “We try to guide them in the right direction.”
“There is no wall for us,” says Maria Barquin, a longtime La Campesina employee who now directs programming for the entire network. “The signal crosses the wall.”
The genesis of La Campesina came in 1962, when Cesar Chavez, along with leadership of what would become the United Farm Workers of America founded the National Farm Workers Association and adopted a resolution calling for the creation of a once a week, 30-minute Spanish language radio program to entertain and educate farmworkers. From that seed grew the vision for Radio Campesina, which formed in 1983 not as a single show, but an entire station—Visalia’s KUFW.
Today, La Campesina‘s programming consists of popular regional Mexican music hosted by colorful deejays, public service announcements and educational programming. Their daily network educational program, “Punto de Vista” (“Point of View”), covers topics related to immigration, health and education, with experts invited on to speak about those topics.
When immigration raids expanded in California earlier this year, La Campesina adopted a new slogan to fits its more aggressive posture in opposing the crackdown—“La estación siempre en guardia,” or “the station always on guard.”
Hosts receive on-air phone calls from farmworkers who’ve encountered ICE and are willing to share their stories. Attorneys and psychologists offer educational commentaries, advising the immigrant community how to cope with the anxiety of family separation. In between, the station broadcasts an announcement from their current campaign: “Since the beginning of [the Trump] administration, the community has had to adapt to a new way of living. Millions of Latinos live in fear of seeing their families separated by an ICE detention. That is why at Radio Campesina, we are a station that is on guard against these actions. Here, we will tell you how to prepare your family with information that can help you in the case of a raid. Not having a status in this country does not make you a criminal. Get ready and act.”
“We are protecting our community and informing them of their rights by giving them information about what to do if they get detained or if a friend gets detained,” says Barquin. This advice includes how to get representation by an attorney and how to secure their families and properties if they are deported.
In April, Radio Campesina‘s team traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to meet the migrant caravan that had traveled from Central America (and …read more
Read more here: The Spanish-Language Voice of Resistance