Hispanic Heritage Month:
Prevalence of Labor Trafficking in Hispanic Communities
By Emily Miller
National Hispanic Heritage Month began on September 15th in 1988, coinciding with the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. As we celebrate Hispanic heritage during the month of September and early October, it is important to know why we celebrate. We must celebrate the progress behind us, and fight against the injustice in front of us.
The push for the celebration of Hispanic heritage began during the civil rights movement. House Representative George Edward Brown of California introduced a bill advocating for a National Hispanic Heritage Week in recognition of the Hispanic community’s impact on the United States, which was authorized in 1968. Two decades later in 1987, Representative Esteban Torres of California submitted a bill for the expansion of Hispanic Heritage Week to Hispanic Heritage Month, which was signed into law in 1988.
The impact of Hispanic culture on American society must not be overlooked or uncredited. In a 2012 study, researchers found that 74% of Hispanic respondents and 78% of non-Hispanic respondents felt that Hispanic culture has had a great or moderate influence on American culture. Aspects of Hispanic culture permeate our daily lives from the celebration of Dia de los Muertos and food such as tamales and fajitas. However, that is not all there is to Hispanic culture. There are many significant Hispanic figures throughout American history, such as Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice ,and Jovita Idar de Juarez, a Mexican American and women’s rights activist.
This Hispanic Heritage Month, we must continue to fight for human rights and labor rights in the Hispanic community. Labor trafficking rates among Hispanic migrant workers in the United States are increasing. According to Modern Slavery: A Global Perspective from the Columbia University Press, an “individual is a victim of labor trafficking under U.S. and international law if he or she is (1) recruited, transferred, transported, or harbored (2) through force, fraud, or coercion (3) for the purpose of forced labor, slavery, or debt bondage”. From April 2020 through September 2020, there was a 70% increase in labor trafficking victims among those holding an H-2A visa. 99% of these labor trafficking victims were Hispanic. A 2014 study, “Estimating Labor Trafficking Among Unauthorized Migrant Workers in San Diego,” examining labor trafficking among Spanish-speaking immigrants in San Diego County, California, found that 30% of undocumented migrant workers were victims of labor trafficking, 55% were victims of other forms of labor abuse and exploitation, and half of those experiences occurred over a period of 12 months.
An essential part of stopping labor trafficking is intervention. If you suspect that you or someone you know is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline number at 1-888-373-7888. You can also visit the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force resources page for more information on trafficking and exploitation if you believe that you or a loved one is being trafficked. As a consumer, you also have a part to play in ending labor trafficking. You can be mindful of where the products you buy are from and how they are produced, looking for ethical labor practices, using useful tools such as the Sweat & Toil app developed by the U.S. Department of Labor.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity for us to celebrate Hispanic heritage as well as recognize the need to continue fighting against labor trafficking and exploitation among Hispanic workers. If we are to value the importance of the Hispanic community, and their culture and influence, then we must fight for their rights, fair treatment in the work world, and rightful earnings for their labor.