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Hispanic farmers fight discrimination, litigation still pending

By Johnny Hernandez
La Prensa de San Antonio.- For Modesta Rodriguez Salazar, 65, a longtime farmer from Pearsall, Texas, discrimination is something she and her family know a little too well.
In 1952, her father bought a farm in Pearsall from a wealthy physician. Neighbors tried to warn them about what had happened to the two previous owners.
“Before 1952, he sold the farm to the Velasco family; after four years he took it away,” Salazar recalls. “Then, he sold it to the Garcia family and later took it away. So in 1952, we came to Pearsall and people were telling us, ‘You have to be very careful because what they’re probably going to do is take the farm away from you after four years.'”
They didn’t understand the warnings, but sure enough after four years, Salazar’s father had paid off all of his debt to his landlord and the bank , yet a mysterious $1,000 bill-due the next day- surfaced with a forged signature and no leniency. Fortunately, somebody knew what was going on.
“A secretary there at the bank got her purse from under her desk, took out her checkbook and wrote a check for $1,000,” says Salazar. “She understood what they were doing, having seen it for eight years with the Velasco and Garcia families, and now they were doing it to our family.”
The bank president took the check, but according to Salazar, the harassment ensued from that point on. At one point, they were denied loans to pay a $76,000 dollar debt to the bank and when they hired an attorney to investigate their claims of discrimination, he sent someone to pay off the debt in full, but the bank president would not even accept the payment. Instead, he spent about an hour with the attorney’s representative bad mouthing Salazar’s family.
Although the discriminatory harassment subsided enough for Salazar and her family to keep their farm alive, she found herself once again fighting for her farm due to recent, admitted acts of discrimination by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) towards more than 82,000 Hispanic farmers across the country.
“I have not lived a different life other than that of discrimination, and now this,” exclaims Salazar. “I am very fed up! I’m just hoping that all of this is resolved soon.”
In 2000, a third generation farmer named Lupe Garcia from New Mexico filed a class action lawsuit seeking to remedy years of “massive and admitted” acts of discrimination against Hispanic farmers and ranchers who were denied access to USDA loan and farm benefit programs that were supposed to be made available to any farmer under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).
In fact, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) was primarily set up to make the operating loans farmers depend on to stay in business.
Garcia & Sons (Garcia, his father and brother) were unable to obtain such loans even though cash flow, profitability and collateral were all sufficient. As a result, they were foreclosed upon in 1999.
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