Activist-in-Residence MaryJoan Picone

Contributed by Anne Gebelein

Thanks to the generosity of the CLAS Dean’s office, El Instituto was able to welcome its first Activist-in-residence, MaryJoan Picone, LCSW, in 2021. MaryJoan has been organizing Mexican farmworkers in the Glastonbury area for over a decade, and volunteers at the U.S./Mexico border as well, assisting migrants in need of food, medicine and shelter.

MaryJoan brought her generous spirit and deep knowledge of Mexican migration to multiple classrooms during the spring semester, including LLAS/HIST 3635 History of Modern Mexico; LLAS 3998/HRTS 3298Human Rights on the US/Mexican Border, and LLAS/ANTH 3150 Migration. She also arranged for 2 guest speakers in LLAS 3998: Alvaro Enciso, a border artist in Tucson who creates and paints crosses for those fallen in the desert, and Betsy Flynn, a CT nun who regularly dedicates her time to migrant and refugee needs in McAllen, TX.

Through her connections at Rose’s Berry Farm, MaryJoan collaborated with El Instituto, the Honors Program and UConn’s student-led Spring Valley Farm to create a day of learning and service at Rose’s Berry Farm on September 11th. There, farm manager Winny Contreras led the group of a tour of his newly created corn maze, as well strawberry fields, pumpkin patches, and the tomato vineyard. Winny, MaryJoan and farm owner Sandy Rose spoke to students about the challenges of small-scale farming in CT, the realities of migrant workers, and the shrinking labor pool leading to farms relying more on events and rentals. Students spent 2 hours cutting pumpkin stems and righting them and picking 19 baskets of tomatoes. Their labor was rewarded by having lunch on Rose’s large wooden deck, of food grown right on the farm.

The last event of MaryJoan’s residency will be in late April of 2022, when the Mexican workers from Glastonbury will be invited to tour the student-led projects at Spring Valley Farm and to share a meal with farm residents and other interested students from UConn.

MaryJoan’s residency was a big success in spite of the challenges that covid posed for virtual learning. Her dedication to workers’ rights and to ensuring the dignity of all inspired UConn students to learn more about migrant activism. El Instituto looks forward to continuing to collaborate with her in its future border studies program, which will hopefully launch in May of 2022. Stay tuned!

A few of the photos taken by Amelinda Rossitto, Center for Career Development Associate Director of Programming and Internal Relations:

MaryJoanPicone_Rose Berry Farm
MaryJoan Picone

Rose Berry Farm 1
Wenceslas Contreras (Winnie), Farm Stand Operations Manager
Rose Berry farm 2 Rose berry Farm 3