Migrant farm workers have come to Canada through federal programs since 1966 in response to socio-historical conditions here and the sending countries. While Caribbean workers speak, read and write in English, most Mexican workers' main language is Spanish, besides native languages. Very few Mexicans speak English. Despite language proficiency in English, racist and abusive practices have played out in the experience of many Caribbean and Mexican migrant farm workers. The federal programs that allow Canadian employers to hire these workers are part of an exclusionary system that resulted in the commodification and marginalization of migrant workers that come from the Global South. A second consequence of such programs is the imbalanced power relationships that materialize in daily experiences of racism and abuse for most Spanish-speaking migrant workers in an English-dominant society like British Columbia. Governments negotiate the contract for these workers and do not include language proficiency in English or French for workers from Spanish-speaking countries as a requirement to work in Canada. In addition, the federal government neither provides services for migrant farm workers in their own language nor offers them any possibilities to access language education while in Canada. This study focuses on the experiences of racism and exclusion that a group of Mexican migrant agricultural workers in BC face in their daily interactions with Canadian society. It also describes some strategies these workers, as "non-legitimate" speakers, have created to deal with such practices in an English-dominant society. I explore how concepts like race, racism and the racialization of “the other” work in conjunction with other theoretical conceptualizations such as social space, language, power and discourse to understand better the vulnerability of many workers to exploitation and exclusion in BC. This analysis provides ways to understand how language has turned into a strategy to deal with racist discourses and social practices in Canada. In other words, language becomes a site of oppression for many workers in BC, while it turns into a site of resistance for a few of them. This study fills the gap in the literature of analysis of migrant farm workers in BC from a theoretical framework that relates to issues of race, language, and power.
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Thesis advisor: Marshall, Steve
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