Have you ever heard of Hermila Treviño-Sauceda? Proooooobably not.
This 58-year-old Coachella, Calif., resident is pretty much the badass that’s considered “the leader of the women farmworkers movement in the US” by the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF), the same foundation that awarded her the 2016 Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life.
The WWSF is an international humanitarian non-profit organization that was created in Geneva in 1991. It’s dedicated to giving voice to the thoughts of women and children, who so often have very little say “in shaping the economic and political space in which they live.” Mily, as Hermila is often called, was recognized by the organization because of her over 40 years of tireless activism on behalf of farmworkers and female farmworkers in particular.
Mily was born in Bellingham, Washington in 1956, but as the daughter of migrant farmworkers she found herself traveling back and forth across the US/Mexico border. She began working in the fields when she was only 7 years old.
After being sexually assaulted while working, she told her father only to be asked what she had done “to attract the attention of the assailant” and then her dad went right back to talking to the assailant como si nada. She experienced firsthand the particular challenges that women and children face in the fields.
She became an activist in her teen years and her activism has included using skits to demonstrate the conditions that women face in the field, which include sexual harassment, exposure to pesticides and domestic violence.
The award from the WWSF this year is by no means the first award that she’s ever received in recognition of her work for the advancement of female farmworkers.
Every day, California farmworkers worry that the pandemic plowing through agricultural hubs will catch them and kill them. They also worry that not working will kill them. Now, there is further evidence that their worries are grounded in reality.
A recent survey – the Covid-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) – points out the grim reality this vulnerable community faces as they work to support the nation’s ongoing need for food services.
California’s farmworker community – now considered essential – is being hit hard by the Coronavirus.
California’s agricultural communities have been hit the hardest by the Coronavirus pandemic. From Imperial County along the U.S.-Mexico border to Fresno County in the Central Valley, these counties are also home to large migrant communities who are considered ‘essential workers’ as they work California’s farms and ranches.
As new details emerge, a grim picture of the virus among farmworkers is emerging. The Covid-19 Farmworker Study (COFS) reinforces the dire warnings that farmworker advocacy organizations made when the coronavirus lockdowns began: The least protected essential workers in the country, toiling under environmental conditions like excessive heat, pollution and dust, are being devastated by the coronavirus, directly and indirectly.
Now, five months into the pandemic, infection rates are spiking. Fresno County is experiencing 435 cases for every 100,000 residents; in Tulare it’s 472 and in Merced it’s 564. The statewide average: 269.
Though county figures say about 31% of overall cases are in the Latino community, some on the front lines estimate that up to 70% of cases from the recent spike have hit in that demographic, in a region where they account for about 42% of the population, according to census figures. Experts agree that official case counts across the state may be low because of testing problems.
And experts agree that fighting Covid-19 in the Central Valley could be an uphill battle. Many farmworkers live in crowded, dorm-like buildings. And thanks to a hostile government, many migrants are fearful of seeking any sort of medical or legal or financial help. Many of the people most at risk do not speak English and are traditionally hard for government to reach. Therefore, packing plants have emerged as coronavirus clusters in parts of the state.
The state is struggling to get a hold on the outbreak but officials have launched a new program they hope will have an impact.
The recent spike in infection rates within the Central Valley has drawn national attention, and now seems to have the attention of Gov. Gavin Newsom. His administration is dispatching three of his Coronavirus ‘strike teams’ to the region to help local officials track cases of Covid-19, inspect workplaces, quarantine the sick, and ramp up testing within vulnerable groups.
Each team, consisting of about a dozen experts on health, housing, public outreach, agriculture and other fields, will try to contain an alarming spread through the region. Much of their work will focus on the San Joaquin Valley, where agricultural fields and crowded food-processing plants have become fertile ground for the virus.
“If you asked me today what our biggest area of concern in a state as large as ours, it is indeed the Central Valley,” Newsom said recently in announcing the deployment. “We need to do more for our agricultural and farmworkers.”
In addition to the strike team, the state is allocating $52 million in federal money to help improve testing and contact tracing within the valley. It’s also spending $6 million in private donations to buy food and other basics for low-income Valley residents whose livelihoods have been threatened by the pandemic.
But for many farmworkers, despite the risk, they have little choice but to continue to work.
California’s farmworkers have long been one of the state’s most vulnerable communities. Now that the pandemic has ravaged the state’s economy, migrant farmworkers are considered ‘essential workers’ and are exempt from many of the protective lockdown orders, forcing them to risk their health while at work.
Meanwhile, the collapse of food service (restaurants and institutions) has le to the shutdown of farms across the state and roughly 20% of farm jobs have been cut – that amounts to nearly 100,000 workers. Those who are still working have largely seen their hours cut. So for many, they have little choice but to return to a dangerous job or risk juggling bills and going hungry.
On the job, however, workers lack control of their own safety. Fewer than half of those surveyed said they had received masks from their employers. Even among those who had, they had received them once or a couple of times. (Farmworkers generally wear face coverings to protect themselves from pesticide dust, dirt and the sun. More than 95 percent of those surveyed said they are masked in the fields.)
Social distancing is still an idea, not a reality, for many of those surveyed. In some cases, farmworkers who asked for better protections, such as more distancing in the fields, or hand sanitizer, have faced retaliation. Crew bosses have punished them by cutting their hours or days, advocates said.
The Coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of Americans to shelter in place from the safety of their homes. Meanwhile, millions of others are on the frontlines keeping this country running. They’re now known as “essential workers” and they’re made up of healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, fast food attendants, line cooks at local restaurants, janitors, meat processing plant workers, and agricultural workers.
These roles now deemed “essential” all have one thing in common – they employ a higher percentage of immigrant and undocumented workers than most other segments of the economy.
And with Cinco de Mayo happening tomorrow, there is a star-studded event taking place that we all need to show up to – even if we don’t get out of our sweatpants.
Farmworkers and the undocumented community are more vulnerable now than ever – and they need your help.
More than an estimated three million farmworkers are on the frontlines, helping support the global food supply. And they’re doing it during a global health crisis.
About 50% of the agricultural workforce is comprised of undocumented immigrants. Because of the nature of their work, physical distancing is difficult to abide by as is handwashing and other CDC requirements. They’re also missing required protective gear, including masks. All while having to face the constant fear of deportation.
And while the government has stepped up in some ways to help those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic – they are specifically excluding undocumented workers (even those deemed essential) from receiving federal aid.
And that’s where Altísimo Live comes in!
In an effort to provide for farmworkers throughout the U.S., RetroPop Media and iHeartLatino joined forces to develop Altísimo Live!. Together with the iHeartLatino Chairman and Chief Creative Officer Enrique Santos, Eva Longoria will host this huge, star-studded concert, which will feature some of the biggest Latino artists.
So how do you attend a virtual event?
Altísimo Live is a free event but its organizers are asking for $5 donations from viewers in an effort to support the community. All you have to do. Is text “Cinco” to 91999 or you can donate directly to the Farmworkers’ Pandemic Relief Fund. They hope to raise $3 million to provide care and supplies to farmworkers and their families.
The bilingual event kicks off across the concert’s official social media pages: Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, and Twitch simultaneously on Tuesday, May 5th at 1 p.m. ET. They’re going to lead the event off with an interactive tailgating experience and then sets of continuous performances. There will even be interactive Q&As between artists and their fans at 8 p.m. ET.
All from the comfort of your own home.
And trust, this is one you’re going to want to tune into.
The long list of celebrities performing includes Maluma, Becky G, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Jesse & Joy, A.B. Quintanilla III y Los Kumbia Allstarz, Juanes, Luis Fonsi, Nicky Jam, Maná, Ivy Queen, Los Tigres del Norte, Carlos Vives, and Marc Anthony and others. Additionally, Sofia Vergara, J Balvin, Kate del Castillo, Rosario Dawson, and Alejandro Sanz will make appearances.
Fashion designers Mario De la Torre, Carlos Marrero, and Raul Peñaranda, will also join the event to share how they are using their talent and unique designs in support of the pandemic relief effort. Some of their special edition farmworker-inspired designs will be available for purchase in support of the event.
How else can you show love for the community?
So although the event is free, the organizers are looking to raise that $3 million at $5 a person. Incredible! But in addition to donating, you can also show your support for the event by blasting it across your social media using #AltisimoLive, #CincoOnCinco and #SupportFarmworkers.
Some of the event’s proceeds will also benefit Coalition of Florida Farmworker Organizations, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, NC Fields, La Cooperativa Campesina de California, LULAC of Puerto Rico, La Union del Pueblo Entero in Texas and more.
However, the concert series isn’t just about raising money for farmworkers. It’s also a reminder that they are appreciated and that we as a community have their back.
You can also wear your support on your sleeve!
You can also literally wear your support for farmworkers on your sleeve and help support the event’s organizations. Mitú has launched a womens, mens and kids t-shirt line with the Farmworkers Are Always Essential slogan on them. Twenty percent of the proceeds from the sale of every t-shirt on the Mitú shop will go to the Farmworkers Pandemic Relief Fund.
Tune in to Altísimo Live! on Tuesday, May 5th starting at 10 a.m. PT, 1 p.m. ET.