Growing up in New York City, the holidays that took us to the streets included the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and for my family, the Puerto Rican Day parade in early June. It wasn’t until I transplanted myself to Duluth, Minnesota that I saw the color, heard the music, and experienced the wonderful flavors of Cinco de Mayo. 

May 5th celebrates Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Although the French were able to muscle back, Mexico finally expelled the foreign power in 1867.  Interestingly, Cinco is just four days after May Day, also known as International Workers Day in honor of the gains made by the labor movement. 

Mexican labor, or more specifically, undocumented laborers from Mexico and other countries, has a lot to do with America’s dairy industry. Increasingly, the labor on these farms, including those in Wisconsin and Minnesota, is provided by migrant workers, most of them without papers. Many dairy owners say they could not continue farming if the immigrant labor force were to be forced out.  

This situation is not new, and it has been covered in depth locally and internationally, including in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (2019), several investigative stories in the Food & Environment Reporting Network (2016-2022), and The Guardian (July 25, 2021), to name a few.

Just this past Tuesday, the Wisconsin Farmers Union hosted an online screening and discussion of a 20-minute documentary that puts the faces of families on this issue. “Los Lecheros,” Spanish for the dairymen, sketches a picture of our nation’s dependence on the labor that feeds us. It also describes a situation characterized by decades-long personal relationships, as well as fear and loss. It also mentions the remedies possible in Wisconsin, and nationwide. You can view the film free here, Twelve Letter Films.

This week, Farm Table honors Cinco de Mayo with a featured hand-crafted tres leches cake made with dairy from family farms. We invite you to enjoy a slice in recognition of the day, and of all who work to feed us season after season. 

Thank you for your partnership. 

Sylvia Burgos Toftness, Interim Executive Director