We are Farmers Not Gardeners

The farm in South Central Los Angeles has been bulldozed but the farmers, tree-sitters, and community supporters remain determined to reclaim the land.


Photo by Zack Beatty

Los Angeles — The plants cry out. Hay tristeza en las milpas y el campo. The people or gente are unable to retrieve their seeds from all over Mesoamerica brought to L.A. by the diaspora of indigenous peoples forced to migrate.

This includes Sara Haskie Mendoza's wedding corn — heirloom Navajo corn -- struck down in a violent assault against a community's medicine. As a Diné elder once instructed us, taking care of the land is traditional medicine.

What Can You Do?

Visit the South Central Farmers Web site at www.SouthCentralFarmers.com to volunteer or send support.

Read the Van Jones story about the conflict in YES!

Denise Andrade finds it hard to tell the story. Not because she can't. Quite the contrary. She finds it hard to look at the plants, the crops and the yerbas. Many are strewn about from the tormenta that has cut through the 14-acre urban farm here with the forced and violent eviction of 350 farmers from their plots.

Here, Denise does not [initially] speak of the police violence against those that resisted. Instead she states: "The earth was raped."

Her words are not hyperbole. Amid the largest urban community farm in the nation, the crops are yanked out. Others are stepped upon, thrashed, crushed and lifeless. If you pause, you can still hear the screams. Yet, not all the plants are down. They continue to plea. They stand here as witnesses.

She asks Alberto Tlatoa to come along… to tell the story… and in short order, this 19-year-old speaks of dignity and sets the record straight: "We are farmers, not gardeners. We are campesinos."

The media, he notes, has attempted to portray them as recreational gardeners. The truth is, they are proud farmers, continuing to live a life many have known for thousands of years. And they depend on their crops just as their ancestors have depended upon them since time immemorial.

The perpetrators of the June 13 evictions were the usual suspects and the weapons were the same ones used whether it is in Atenco, Mexico, Oaxaca, Chiapas or San Salvador: bulldozers, riot sticks, developers and politicians. The violence Tlatoa and Andrade speak of is not simply physical. It is a spiritual violence.

It is undeniably a violence against the people – most of whom are of Mexican/Central American origin. Yet it is also a civilized violence against the maize, the nopal and the chile… against hundreds of yerbas and crops that are nowadays still found only in Mesoamerica. In a sense, the way of life they speak of seems far removed from the villages, pueblos and cities that many of these farmers come from… yet, that way of life is here… perhaps as an urban oasis in both time and place… in the middle of what was at one point the most violent urban center in the United States. It was reclaimed after the L.A. uprising of 1992.

It never should have gotten this far. The people who work the land should be its caretakers. If they mistreat the land they forfeit the right to work it. Such is not the case here. They converted a wasteland into the city's lungs. Despite this, a hard-nosed developer – with shifting demands and with disputable claims to the land – has put his own interest above the interests of an entire community.

The Western mind is seemingly incapable of understanding the significance and the relationship between the land and the people. To say that we are gente de maiz —people of maize — is to say that we are one: the people, the land and the maize (chile, frijol &nopal, too) are all one.

How many times has this scene been repeated throughout the Americas? How many times has it led to insurrection?

In that sense, the spirit of the community has not been crushed. Despite the bulldozing and the arrests, the farmers and the defenders of the farm have not given up. They both have a date in court next week and also, are calling upon people across the nation to lend their support this weekend.

The elders say we should never offend the corn spirit, the spirits in the milpa, the water, a canyon or an ant hill. When we go against natural laws, we cannot escape retribution. The natural order will assert itself.

(c) 2006 Column of the Americas

No Paywall. No Ads. Just Readers Like You.
You can help fund powerful stories to light the way forward.
Donate Now.