Mai Nguyen (they/them) is a grain farmer, the California Organizer with the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), and a founding member of the California Farmer Justice Collaborative (CFJC). PAN’s Farmer Justice Fellow Moretta Browne recently talked with Mai about co-organizing the California Farmer Justice Collaborative.
How were you involved with co-founding the California Farmer Justice Collaborative?
I received the email from Paul (Paul Towers, PAN Policy Advocate) who was starting to put together the group in late 2016. Our preliminary conversations around what this group would do focused on the question: “What does racial equity look like in our food and farming system?”
Why has the current political climate centered your work around racial equity?
Trump was elected after a devastating summer of unarmed Black men being hunted down by the police — and we saw no justice. The election signaled to me that many citizens supported these modern-day versions of public lynchings witnessed by millions and condoned anonymously behind the ballot box.
The first weeks after the U.S. presidential election kicked off a series of unsurprising yet disappointing occurrences: Latinx neighbors being beaten, mosques getting defaced, and children being told by their classmates to go back to Mexico. In a time where people say we live in the most peaceful time in human history, we need to acknowledge that there isn’t peace across different communities.
How has race-based violence influenced your work as a community organizer?
I have worked to mobilize urban allies in defense of rural people of color — strengthening phone trees for sanctuary spaces, training people to be witnesses, companions, and advocates for people of color, especially immigrants and pregnant women seeking medical attention, and connecting organizations and community members in the interest of safety. After the election, my immediate reaction was to take direct action, though I also knew that to counter the political change we needed to make policy change.
What does your experience as a farmer bring to the CFJC?
The group began with only a few participating farmers, with very different life experiences and farming businesses (like geography, age, race, gender, financial background). I wanted to ensure that I was representing other farmers I know, and could develop a system of accountability to them such that my participation in the CFJC brought many perspectives, not only my own, and with their depth and with their consent.
Having true farmer representation is still an ongoing challenge. We are still working to determine what kinds of collaboration can best support these communities. There’s the direct action of standing with communities, combined with the challenges of policy work and engaging everyone in the voting process as much as possible. We need as much power as we can hold in the legislative process.
The CFJC’s Farmer Equity Act created a new position for a Farmer Equity Advisor to serve the needs of historically underserved farmers and ranchers in California. Read more here: www.panna.org/blog/farmer-equity-advisor