For over ten years Centro Campesino has been advancing economic and racial justice for Latino migrant workers and Immigrant Latino residents in Southern Minnesota. The organization started out as a worker’s committee for rural migrant workers’ in the late 1990s. Based on the needs of the Latino community in the area, Centro Campesino became an official nonprofit in 2000, incorporating programs focusing on health, education, and advocacy.
Located in Owatonna, Minnesota Centro Campesino’s headquarters consist of an organization-owned building that serves as a meeting place for members. Offices and classrooms allow leaders to offer English and computer classes, consultation with lawyers, and health information. Ernesto Vélez, Executive Director at Centro Campesino, explains that the building, “gives the organization and the community that we serve a sense of ownership. It sends a message that we are going to be here for a long time. This is not something that is going to phase out after one year.” He believes that a sense of permanence is one of the most important accomplishments of the nonprofit.
Ernesto notes how coming to Centro Campesino has opened his eyes to the stories of other Latino immigrants. Many people he has come to know through the organization share similar experiences surrounding racial injustice. This understanding is what Ernesto believes brings people together at Centro Campesino and can empower members to be prepared and informed when facing racial injustice in the future.
Immigrant workers experience exploitation, and intimidation at an alarmingly frequent rate. Centro Campesino works to give these workers the education and confidence needed to fight for equal working conditions. When employees of Ronnel Management Services, a subgroup of the Jenny O Turkey Store in Faribault, Minnesota, were experiencing harassment and discrimination by an individual in a management position they turned to Centro Campesino. Centro Campesino worked with the mistreated employees to create an understanding of what their rights were and how to effectively ensure that these rights were being met. After consulting with representatives from Centro Campesino, agents of Ronnel Management agreed to remove the offending manager, reinstate workers who had been fired due to discrimination, improve working conditions, and implemented a mechanism for handling future. The workers, and all members of Centro Campesino, have found an ally in the organization.
With an increasing Latino population in Minnesota, Centro Campesino balances direct services with advocacy. Ernesto explains how direct services affect recipients; “The community organizing efforts around education, health work, and immigration change how the people we serve see the organization functioning for them. They see the benefit of the social change that is being produced.” Centro Campesino is giving Latino community members the education and support they need to succeed in society while advocating for policy change to ensure that they have an equal opportunity to do so.