Activity 2: Technology on trial - One person's story
The teacher will take the part of a farmworker from Mexico who
has been arrested for crossing the border without a visa and working without a
permit in the United States. Students, acting as reporters, will learn by
interviewing the teacher how the Green Revolution has had far-reaching effects
on the lives of individual people. This activity is best used along with
activity 1 of this lesson.
· To develop interviewing and
· To analyze the effect of
new agricultural technology on ordinary people
· To investigate the many events that may lead up to a
particular action such as immigrating to the United States
· To discuss short-term and long-term consequences of
technology on society
· Teacher background sheet:
Ra>· Student handout: Mexican Peasants and
the Green Revolution (optional)
One class period
Written statement for step 8 of procedure can be turned in.
alien, herbicide, immigrant, monoculture, pesticide,
1. Prior to class, read Rad Mexican Peasants and The Green
Revolution. Ra a farmworker who has been arrested in Phoenix, Arizona, as
an undocumented worker. He is facing deportation from the United States. You
will take the role of Rad be interviewed by students who will be acting as
reporters for a magazine doing a story on undocumented immigrants.
This sort of reverse role play can be an interesting classroom
technique. Often, as teachers, we assign role plays to be performed only by our
students and forget how difficult it is to assume the character of another
person. This technique puts us in the hot seat. It also allows the students to
be the ones asking the questions.
2. If you have not used activity 1 of this lesson, begin by
discussing technology. What is technology? (One definition is "the practical
application of knowledge.") What are examples of technology familiar to
students? How does new technology affect people's lives? How do students think
that improving agricultural technology can help improve the lives of hungry
Tell students that they will be learning about how the life of
one person has been changed by technology and how events have led to actions
that weren't predicted when the technology was introduced.
The class will be looking at the life of Ra poor man from
northern Mexico. In the 1950s many new agricultural technologies were introduced
to Mexico by scientists at technical research centers in the United States and
Mexico. In many areas in Mexico, wheat yields became as high (on a per acre
basis) as those of breadbasket countries such as Canada. Yields of other crops
increased also. Soon the area was growing feed crops, as well as fruits and
vegetables for export. We need to ask if this food helped to feed hungry people.
Were all farmers able to benefit from this technology?
Students are going to look backwards at Ralife. They will
discover how changes in Ravillage thirty years ago affect the decisions
Rast make today.
3. Introduce the situation to the class. Ra an undocumented
worker who has been picked up in Arizona. He has been scheduled for deportation
after a short hearing before the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the
U.S. Government. Indicate to the students that they will play reporters
interviewing an undocumented immigrant (RaTheir job is to try to understand
why Ra in the United States and how the events of his life have led him to
cross the border. You may wish to introduce the activity prior to the day of the
interview and ask students to go to the library and read a magazine or newspaper
article on the topic of immigration, farmworkers, Mexican agriculture, or
4. If you have a large class, you can divide the students into
groups of three. In a smaller class, each student can develop questions
5. Give students five minutes to develop at least one question
per student or group. Remind students that they are trying to find out as much
as they can about Ralife.
If students have difficulty with developing questions, here are
some you can write on slips of paper for students to randomly pick:
Why are you here?
Do you have a family? Are they
What sort of work do you do here?
Isn't there work for you in
What was your life like in Mexico?
What did your father do?
you want to stay in the United States?
How are your living conditions here?
6. Once students have their questions written, you will take the
role of Rad attempt to answer them.
7. At the end of the question/answer session, discuss as a group
the following points:
a. How did the new technology affect Ralife?
b. Why did Racide to come to the United States?
c. Could agricultural technology have helped Rad his
family? How? Under what
d. How do you feel about Mexican farmworkers who come to the
United States looking for work? Has your opinion changed after hearing the story
of Rao you think Raould be deported? Why or why not? (This question
could be difficult for the students to answer and back up without some outside
reading, but an emotional response could be constructive.)
e. What is your solution to Raproblems?
8. (Optional) You can also give students the handout Mexican
Peasants and the Green Revolution. The three pie charts point out the
inequalities that existed in Mexican agriculture during the 1960s. We see that
the vast majority-84 percent - of farmers were poor, but that those same farmers
owned only 34 percent of the farmland. We can also see that these farmers had
only 2 percent of irrigated land. Irrigation was used predominantly by the
9. If you wish to give a written assignment, you can ask each
student to write (and illustrate if desired) a one-page article about Rahe
articles can be read to the class the next day or posted on a bulletin board.
· Circle of Poison (book), by
David Weir and Mark Schapiro
· North American
Congress on Latin America (organization)
Pesticide Education and Action Project (organization)
Students can become involved with local groups that work to
protect the rights of undocumented workers. Social service agencies may be able
to refer students to these groups.
Students can join groups working to help people gain a greater
voice in decision-making about technology, such as citizens" utility boards.
Some areas also have public interest research groups, which study the effects of
industry on people.
· Public Interest Research Group
Rap ALIGN="LEFT">Ras born in the northern desert state of Sonora, Mexico, in
1955. His father owned a small plot of ground on which he grew corn, beans, and
vegetables and grazed a cow. He also did carpentry work in villages around their
farm. The family was poor, but almost always had enough food.
When Ras very young, farming in his area began to change. A
government experiment station was established and began promoting new types of
seeds to local farmers. Most of the seeds were for wheat, which local people had
little experience growing. These wheat seeds could produce huge harvests if they
were given enough water and fertilizer. The government of Mexico also spent
millions of pesos in constructing huge irrigation networks to supply the area
with water. Along with wheat farming, the production of irrigated vegetables for
export began to dominate the agriculture of the area. Those farmers with the
most wealth and political connections were able to take advantage of the
irrigation technology, expanding their landholdings. Rich farmers used other
names to buy titles to land in order to get around the government's land reform
laws, which limited the amount of land one person could own. The actual average
size of farms owned by rich farmers increased dramatically.
Rap ALIGN="LEFT">Rafather refused to give up his land for many years. The
family's small farm was soon surrounded on all sides by large farms. These large
farmers had access to more irrigation water, to credit on better terms, and to
farm supplies at cheaper prices than Rafather. So they were getting
wealthier, while Rafather was going deeper into debt. Rafather,
wanting to improve conditions for his family, decided to sell the farm.
The family moved to a local village, hoping to get a chance to
buy land again in the future.
Rafather made some money for the family by doing carpentry,
and his mother worked as a part-time maid and laundry person for a wealthy
farmer. During a few months a year, when farm labor was needed, both parents and
children worked on other people's farms.
The huge mechanized monoculture farms of new varieties of plants
were more susceptible to weeds and to damage by insects than the old, small
farms growing a variety of foods. Large farmers in the area began increasing
their use of herbicides and insecticides during the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the
pesticides were declared illegal in the United States and Europe during the
1970s, but they are still in use in many underdeveloped countries.
On many occasions, members of Rafamily were exposed to
pesticides while they worked in the fields. Sometimes planes would fly overhead
and spray the fields even though workers were present. Rametimes had to mix
the pesticides without using a protective mask or gloves. He and others often
had to apply the pesticides to the fields on dry, windy days when the mist from
the sprayers would blow into their faces.
The health of Raparents deteriorated. All members of the
family experienced problems from the pesticides, ranging from rashes to asthma
to severe headaches. They suspected that the pesticides were the cause of many
health problems, but they had no proof. By now the increased amount of
mechanization had decreased the number of working days for each worker, and no
one felt that they could risk losing their job by complaining about the
When Rat married, he and his wife Ana worked together in
the fields. After their first child was born, they realized that it was going to
be hard to support a family in Sonora. They worked all the hours they could near
their village and would go by bus to other areas when harvests came in. There
was absolutely no security for them or their children.
Six months ago, Rade the difficult decision to go to the
United States to look for work. Friends and relatives told him that many farmers
and factory owners in the United States would hire workers from Mexico even if
they did not have work permits. Racided to find work in the United States
for a period of time, save money, and then return to his family in Sonora.
He crossed the border into Arizona in the middle of the night so
as not to be spotted by immigration authorities. After a three-day trek through
the Arizona desert, Rarived in Phoenix. He felt very isolated with no
family or friends to turn to, and he was frustrated by his inability to
communicate in English.
A Mexican compatriot helped him find work in a factory, where he
worked twelve hours a day for two weeks. When payday arrived, the boss announced
that immigration authorities were on the premises. Ras forced to run and
hide until it was safe to look for another job and hope for better treatment.
Finally he found a dishwashing job and began to earn what
appeared to be good money when compared with the average Mexican salary. He
missed his family and hoped to be able to return to them with something to show
for all his hard work and sacrifice.
While riding in a truck near Phoenix, Arizona, one afternoon, he
was picked up by a member of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, told
that he was an illegal alien in the United States, and scheduled for
A friend gave him the phone number of a legal services agency
where he could go for advice and help.
- Based on Roger Burbach and Patricia Flynn, Agribusiness In the
Americas (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980); J. P. Dickenson, et al., A
Geography of the Third World (London and New York: Methuen, 1983); Mark J.
Kurlansky, "Jammed in Mexico's Teeming City,' International Wildlife,
January-February, 1986; and personal Interviews.
Mexican peasants and the green revolution
The following graphs are for your background. The three pie
charts point out the inequalities that existed in Mexican agriculture during the
1960s. We see that the vast majority (84 percent) of farmers were poor farmers,
and that those same farmers owned only 34 percent of the farmland. We can also
see that these farmers had only 2 percent of irrigated land. Irrigation was used
predominantly by the wealthy farmers.
The bar graphs indicate the decline in the number of people
working in agriculture during Rayouth. If people in a rural area do not
work in agriculture, what are their choices?
Mexican peasants and the green