About the IFS

The Indigenous Farmworker Study: purpose and audiences
IFS special challenges and study outline
What’s in the different sections of the Final Report

The Indigenous Farmworker Study

The Indigenous Farmworker Study (IFS) was undertaken between 2007 and 2009 in conjunction with the Indigenous Program of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA).   The California Endowment funded the project with the goal of improving knowledge about this newest group of immigrants to enter the bottom rung of the agricultural labor force in California.  The IFS has sought to describe the size, distribution and language  characteristics of this population.  The study also provides information on the living and working conditions and the most pressing needs of the indigenous farmworker immigrants. The IFS builds on similar work done in the early 1990s by the California Institute for Rural Studies, also in collaboration with CRLA.

Target audiences for the Indigenous Farmworker Study:

  1. Policy makers and planners concerned with U.S. immigration policy, agricultural labor and human rights.
  2. State and local agencies addressing housing, education, health and safety issues in communities with an indigenous immigrant population.  
  3. Those engaged in addressing the challenges of poverty, migration and development in the places of origin. The IFS seeks to provide accessible  information about this new and very different group of émigrés from Mexico.
  4. Leaders of indigenous immigrant organizations and networks in California; while already familiar with their own hometowns and networks, the IFS seeks to provide useful quantitative data about their communities in California.  
  5. Service delivery providers, advocates and foundations seeking to provide for the health and wellbeing of these new occupants of entry-level farm jobs.

his website is a dynamic project.  We would like to correct any errors that exist on the site, provide links to community contacts and to other research findings.  If you would like to comment on the website or suggest links, please contact Rick Mines by sending mail to rkmines43 followed by at gmail dot com

IFS special challenges and study outline

The study of indigenous farmworkers entails several unusual challenges.    The indigenous come from towns that are isolated and with a long history of discrimination and exploitation by non-indigenous strangers.   As a result, indigenous peoples tend to be difficult to approach.   Their experience has taught them not to trust outsiders.   The major barrier is language, because although some speak Spanish well and most speak it to some extent, most prefer to speak in their own languages.  Most have a limited Spanish vocabulary that constrains deeper-level communication with non-indigenous outsiders. This presents great obstacles to data collection that can only be overcome through an intermediary group of cultural and linguistic interpreters.

In light of these challenges, the IFS undertook a gradual process of building trust with the communities and devised a stepwise method of data collection (see summary in Table 1, below).

  1. Count of Hometown Networks. First, we recruited 40 indigenous-speaking interviewers who spread out all over rural California to carry out a census-like count of as many different hometown networks as we could find.  We were able to gather data on about 350 Mexican sending localities.  For each of these hometown networks, the interviewers asked questions of one or more members of the network, allowing us to make population estimates for each network and to determine the distribution of members across California.  In addition, during the count we learned of the presence in California of an additional 150 hometown Mexican indigenous networks, although we don’t have population estimates for these.

  2. Table 1.  Research Components of the IFS
    Technique Description
    1. Count of Hometown Networks Interviewed members of 350 Mexican indigenous sending communities and gathered estimates of population and location of settlements in California.
    2. Survey of Key Informants Gathered community-level data from leaders in 67 sending networks about jobs, U.S. and Mexican migration destinations (including the periods of outflows), and use of services by members of the network and the importance of community institutions.
    3.Field Research in Mexico Visited the prospective case study villages as well as Mexican border settlements in Baja California.  Gained approval from hometown authorities to conduct the study among their expatriated co-villagers.
    4.Indigenous Community Survey (ICS) For nine sending networks, the survey gathered information with 400 respondents about demography of the family, migration history of the respondent, housing arrangements, employment conditions and health care utilization.
    5.Provider Key Informant Interviews Gathered information on the experiences and point of view those providing  social services to indigenous farmworkers.


  3. Survey of Key Informants. Our next activity was to conduct interviews with community representatives from a few dozen sending towns in order to get more in-depth information from which we could narrow our search for representative case study communities and deepen our understanding of indigenous farmworker migration.  In the winter and spring of 2007-2008, the IFS chose 67 representative towns that encompassed the major language groups, places of origin and destinations in California. Our Survey of Key Informants was done with a representative (or two) of each community.   The survey gathered community-level data from the community leaders about jobs, U.S. and Mexican migration destinations (including the time periods of the migration stages), and the use of services by people in the network, and the importance of community institutions. 
  4. Field Research in Mexico. The next step, in the spring and summer of 2008, was to visit the selected hometowns in central Mexico and their daughter border settlements in Baja California in order to familiarize ourselves with the conditions in the places of origin and to ask permission of town authorities to conduct a detailed survey among their community members.
  5. Indigenous Community Survey. In the fall and winter of 2008, we conducted the main data gathering of the IFS, the Indigenous Community Survey (ICS), among 400 respondents in nine hometown networks in California.  These nine communities cover four languages, two Mexican states, and include both deeply rooted and newcomer networks.   The survey gathered information about demography of the family regardless of location at the time of the survey, migration history of the respondent, housing arrangements, employment conditions and health care utilization.  The survey used universe lists gathered in both Mexico and California of all people from the town living in California agricultural areas.   Then, a selection technique was instituted for each town to include representative proportions of men and women, of old and young, of the unmarried, and of people with spouses and families in Mexico and those with their families in the United States.  An average of over 40 respondents from each community was given an hour-long sit-down interview, often in their homes.  This procedure has guaranteed a representative distribution of interviewees. 
  6. Provider Key Informant Interviews. Finally, during the winter of 2008-2009 and spring of 2009, we carried out telephone and in-person interviews throughout California with more than forty informants who deal directly with the indigenous population.  These included nurses, doctors, clinic administrators and other health care workers, as well as outreach specialists, translators, educators, community organizers, and local and county specialists.   The perspectives of these providers complement the information gathered from the indigenous community.

For greater detail see Final Report Appendices

What’s in the different sections of the Final Report

The information on this website is a simplified summary without footnotes of the findings that we reported in our final report to the California Endowment entitled “California’s Indigenous Farmworkers.” 

The Report is divided into the following eight sections:
Section I:  An introduction to the study. 
Section II:   An outline of the history of the immigrant networks, from their places of origin, to elsewhere in Mexico, and their settlement communities in California. 
Section III:  A brief description of our basic approach of using the hometown networks as the foundation upon which we built our study.  A full explanation of this approach is found in Appendix II. 
Section IV:  The demographic traits of the population in a bi-national context and details of the economic and social barriers faced by indigenous farmworkers.   
Section V: The language groups and the community organizational structures unique to the indigenous Mexican groups working in California’s fields. 
Section VI: Describes the income and assets of this population, its wages and the working conditions it faces in the labor market. 
Section VII: The housing arrangements and the level of crowdedness in the different regions of California. 
Section VIII: Explains in detail the barriers to health care, the social service needs of the indigenous community and provider perspectives on the population.