About twenty Guatemalan and Honduran temporary foreign workers gathered at the community center in Saint-Rémi on February 11, 2023, at the invitation of Melvin Mendez and Leticia Beita of the Oscar Romero Foundation, to play the lottery – or Mexican bingo. This fun meeting was also an opportunity to exchange information on the rights of agricultural workers.
Text and photos Marie-Anne Dayé.
A game card with 16 images, white beans and a lottery “singer”, and that’s all it takes to get the participants fired up and the tension rising. The person at the microphone draws one of the 54 cards from the deck in his or her hand, such as the mermaid, the shrimp or the moon, and the player must place a bean on the corresponding picture on his or her card. As soon as a line is formed or his card is full, depending on the rule that was established at the beginning, he must shout “¡Lotería!
The lottery has been a popular part of Mexican culture for over two centuries. It was played by the ruling classes of the colony (then New Spain) and became a pastime for Mexican soldiers during the War of Independence from 1810 to 1821. Since then, it has become part of the country’s traditions and is now a staple of family meals and celebrations. At the Saint-Rémi community center, workers could take advantage of their day off to play this game. It was also a way for Melvin and Leticia to bond with them.
For some of the workers present, this was not only their first year in Quebec, but also the first activity offered by an organization in the region in which they were participating. Others were in their eighth or tenth year in the province. With their Vision ML project, funded by the Migrant Worker Support Program, Melvin and Leticia want to reach out to as many workers as possible, to support them during their stay in Quebec: they welcome them at the airport and accompany them to the grocery store and to the hospital for translation, for example.
While waiting for everyone to walk through the door, the organizers took the opportunity to show videos explaining workers’ rights and to answer questions about paid overtime or pension benefits, for example. Melvin also addressed the issue of workplace injuries: “If you break your paw” – an agricultural parallel that had everyone in the room laughing – “if you break your leg, he continued, “you tell your boss you have to go to the hospital and he says no, wait until tomorrow… In that situation, you can call us.” He went on to detail the steps to be taken, including consultation with a doctor and the benefits to which the worker is entitled.
The Vision ML program will improve throughout the year according to the needs and desires of the workers, always with the same objective: to help, accompany and support migrant workers as well as to break the isolation through social activities.