© 2015 Tessie Barrera-Scharaga. Website designed by Gabrielle Scharaga

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The Malady of Third World Dreaming

Mixed-media installation incorporating silk-screened cloth, found objects, and coffee.

16’x10’x10’

2010

 

Despite the high demand for coffee the world over, coffee producing countries are among the poorest, their populations among the most disadvantaged. The international coffee trade is immense, second only to that of oil in value. All of the major socio-political issues of the 21st Century -globalization, immigration, women’s rights, pollution, indigenous rights, ecology, and self-determination- come into play through the coffee trade. The billions in profits made from coffee in the world of high finance barely trickle down to the average farmer, much less the laborers, as many layers of middlemen and traders remove the growers and workers from the consumer.

 

My interest in the continuing saga of coffee stems out of my own family’s tortured history with its farming. Coffee was first introduced in Central America in the 1800’s to provide a much-needed economic base. In El Salvador, my great grandparents bought into this dream and turned from traditional farming to growing coffee. Their generation considered this a patriotic duty.

 

For almost two centuries coffee fueled El Salvador’s economy and shaped its history, allowing the smallest country in the continent to achieve 4th place among coffee producers. This dream came crashing down in the mid 1980’s, in the midst of a bloody civil war and a market crisis. When the Peace Treaty was finally signed in 1992, there were 75,000 dead and the Salvadoran economy was completely destroyed. As a fourth generation grower, my mother’s dream had come to an end. Her coffee farm was one of the casualties.

 

Fast-forward 20 years. Multinational corporations have El Salvador on their radar with a new emphasis on single origin coffees. Could the dream come true this time around? After 200 years of failed dreams, will coffee finally deliver its promise of equality and justice to El Salvador? This is still one of the few places in the world where coffee is harvested by hand. Every year, an army of migrant workers mobilizes throughout the country dreaming of earning enough during the harvest to feed their families. Even with Fair Trade regulations, it is very rarely the case. Coffee growing and harvesting are meticulous and labor-intensive operations. Earnings are docked if coffee isn’t harvested at its peak. Field laborers must pick only the ripest berries that will yield the best tasting cup of coffee. I can’t help but to be reconnected to this world every single morning. The smell of coffee always brings me back.