Winnipeg band performs to raise funds for Manitoba migrant workers, reclaim Cinco de Mayo

A Winnipeg-based Mexican folk-rock band performed a Cinco de Mayo show at the Good Will Social Club on Friday to raise funds for migrant workers in Manitoba.

Mariachi Ghost fuses traditional Mexican songs, electric guitar, synths and vocals. Lead singer Jorge Requena Ramos grew up in Mexico and says Cinco de Mayo is like a “Hallmark holiday” that most Mexicans don’t celebrate.

But the band has been asked to play on the holiday numerous times, he told CBC News. “It’s a little bit exhausting since it isn’t a thing for Mexicans … so we wanted to take the holiday and do something positive for the Mexican community.”

Friday’s show, called “Reclaiming Cinco de Mayo,” is donating all proceeds to the Migrant Worker Solidarity Network, which does advocacy and solidarity work with agricultural migrant workers working on Manitoba farms.

The network was originally created to call on the province to give migrant workers access to health care, said Ramos.

Sarah Zell, a member of the network, said about 700 migrant workers come to Manitoba each year and are predominantly from Mexico. 

“It’s really an invisible, shadow workforce that’s producing a lot of the food that we enjoy and that we eat here in Manitoba,” she told CBC News.

“Some of them have been coming season after season, for up to 20 years, and never have access to be able to apply to stay here permanently.”

A woman smiles toward the camera.
About 700 migrant workers come to Manitoba each year, predominantly from Mexico, said Migrant Worker Solidarity Network member Sarah Zell. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Working long hours in the sun, wind and dust causes many migrant workers to develop a syndrome called pterygium, she said, which can cause blindness if not treated early.

“So tonight, we’re collecting money to go towards the purchase of safety glasses,” Zell said, adding that the event was also a way to spread awareness about the plight of migrant workers in Manitoba.

She said many of the workers risk repatriation if they speak up about workplace injuries and abuses, since their housing, immigration status and jobs all depend on their employers.

“They say here I feel exploited, but at least I can send money home and my children are eating at home … it’s really a larger geopolitical issue in terms of global inequality.”

Migrant workers in Manitoba come not only from Mexico, but other places around the world including El Salvador, Honduras and the Philippines, said Ramos.

Friday’s show will also raise funds for legal fees for migrant workers in the province, he said, who often work for wages less than minimum wage.

“We need to remind people that temporary workers are not the cattle — they are people that come here … and make the Canadian economy possible.”

A band is pictured performing.
The opening act Aströids on stage Friday night at the Good Will Social Club. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

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