Students protest Taco Bell
By ERIN LaRUFFA
With banners, flyers and even a bagpiper, about 30 students from the Notre Dame Student Farmworker Alliance protested Sunday afternoon at the Taco Bell on SR 23, across from University Park Mall.
The students protested the chain restaurant because it purchases tomatoes from a Florida farmer whom students say exploits farmer workers, many of them migrants from Mexico.
"We think that Taco Bell should pay a penny more for a pound of tomatoes so the workers can get higher wages," said protester Jane Bleeg.
"I'm really excited about the turn out. I'm glad this many people turned out to support us," said sophomore Chris Rupar.
Not everyone supported the protest, however. Taco Bell's manager called the South Bend Police Department, which responded with six police cruisers.
"They were trying to tell me we couldn't be here because we're too noisy," said senior Julie Hodek. "It's pretty clear where their interests are. They're with the local businesses."
After speaking to Hodek, the police allowed the protest to continue and left the location.
Despite the complaints of Taco Bell management and local authorities, Bleeg felt the public's overall reception to the protest was "positive."
In addition to protesting, Bleeg, Rupar and Hodek were three of 16 Notre Dame students and professors who spent spring break on the Center for Social Concern's (CSC's) Migrant Experiences Seminar.
Seminar participants spent a week in Immokalee, Fla., examining the conditions endured by migrant farmer workers. They lived with migrant families and spent some time picking oranges along with the laborers who do so for a living.
Participating in the seminar taught students about the hardships endured by these workers, many of whom are living undocumented in America. The U.S. Department of Labor reports indicate that the median annual income of these workers is $7,500, with no health care or other benefits, no overtime pay and no right to collectively bargain with their employers.
"Taco Bell's enormous global revenues are based on cheap ingredients for the food they sell, including cheap tomatoes picked by farm workers in Florida who are paid sub-poverty wages," said Joanna Garcia, a junior who also participated in the seminar and protest.
So the Notre Dame students decided to join protests of Taco Bell.
Students gathered on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, holding signs and chanting slogans such as, "No quiero Taco Bell." The group also played music and handed flyers out to people stopping at the nearby traffic light.
"The whole purpose behind this is to educate. We think it's a basic enough issue that if you're aware of it, you'll support us," Rupar said.
"[We're protesting] to help people realize there's a connection between the food they eat and the companies they buy it from and their workers," said senior Brian Wolford, who participated in the Migrant Experiences Seminar when he was a sophomore. Because of that experience, as well as his work in a Texas shelter for undocumented workers, Wolford decided to join the protest against Taco Bell.
Many students who have never participated in a Migrant Experiences Seminar also joined Sunday's protest.
One such student was junior Krista Schoening, who joined the protest because she sympathizes with the farm workers' cause.
"Basically, I'm here because people are being exploited," she said. "There's a very unusual situation in the United States today that we have a lot of prejudice against people who are immigrants from Mexico."
She pointed out the fact that many Americans want INS to tighten up the border with Mexico, while at the same time Americans benefit from the Mexican workers that do make it into the U.S.
"We exploit these migrants. We pay these people almost nothing, and we get much more out of it than they do," Schoening said.
All News Stories for Monday, April 9, 2001