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Mexican President Visits California Wine Country

Felipe Calderón stresses importance of improved U.S.-Mexico labor relations in speech at Sonoma winery founded by Mexican immigrants

Lynn Alley
Posted: February 15, 2008

President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, on his first official visit to the United States, spoke on the afternoon of Feb. 13 at Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma, Calif., to an audience of field workers and vintners, saying his visit was intended to address concerns facing Mexican immigrants in the United States. Calderón, accompanied by the governors of Mexican states Colima, Guanajuato and Zacatecas, had come from a lunch in Sacramento with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger before he made his address.

Calderón spoke (in Spanish) about how Mexican immigrants have a negative image in the United States, but he wanted to stress the significant role they play in the country's economy, according to Vanessa Robledo, spokesperson for Robledo Family Winery. She said that Calderón told her, "I quoted the back of your Los Braceros label to the governor and talked about the importance of what Mexican laborers have contributed to agriculture here."

The winery's Los Braceros Red was created to commemorate the Bracero worker program instituted by the U.S. government in the 1940s when, due to a shortage of American male workers during World War II, Mexican men and women were invited to come as legal guest workers to the United States. Reynaldo Robledo, founder of the winery, came to the United States when he was 16 years old and spent the next 40 years working in California's wine industry. Starting as a field hand, he worked his way up to vineyard manager. In 1996, he formed Robledo Vineyard Management and ultimately purchased more than 200 vineyard acres in Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties.

"California's quality wines are based upon the Mexican hand," said Vanessa Robledo.

At the lunch in Sacramento, Calderón and Schwarzenegger were served Sonoma Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Ceja Vineyards, founded by Pedro and Amelia Ceja, also immigrants from Mexico. "President Calderón visited California to pay his respects to the people who have built this industry," said Amelia Ceja, who attended the lunch and the speech at Robledo. "Mexican people come here because they are seeking a better life, not because they want to take advantage of the system."

During his speech, Calderón also said that he and his administration were working hard to improve conditions for workers in Mexico so they no longer feel they must cross the border to support their families.

Last year, as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security considered an immigration crackdown, an official for the Sacramento-based California Association of Winegrape Growers estimated that about 70 percent of the 50,000 workers in the California wine industry are undocumented.

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