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.
Farmworkers face dangerous and even life-threatening conditions each and every day they’re at work. It’s a seriously difficult job to do but so many of our country’s most at-risk people are the ones doing it.
Our nation’s farmworkers face discrimination, refusal of payment, immigration crackdowns, physical injury, and now – according to an NBC report – an outbreak of valley fever.
This outbreak of valley fever has the potential to be deadly for farmworkers.
A new NBC News report details the story of Victor Gutierrez, who contracted valley fever, a dangerous fungal disease. Victor was suffering from flu-like symptoms – coughing, night sweats, exhaustion, and a strange feeling that he was burning up on the inside. He ignored the symptoms and kept working so that he wouldn’t lose his job but eventually the illness caught up with him and he was struggling to breathe.
The next day, Gutierrez’s lungs filled up with fluid and he felt so sick that he went to a local clinic. This time, they tested him for valley fever, and it came back positive.
He told NBC News: “The nurse called me and told me to rush to the clinic because it was an emergency.” They told him he might only have six months to live.
While Gutierrez managed to beat those odds by taking the antifungal medication fluconazole for more than a year, he has seen valley fever kill many other people he’s known.
The worst of the valley fever outbreak is happening where nearly two-thirds of our nuts and fruits come from – putting a huge amount of workers at risk along with our economy.
In California, rates of new cases rose 10 percent in just one year. The state budget has $8 million for valley fever research, while about $3 million will go to the Valley Fever Institute at Kern Medical Center, in the heart of the growing threat.
These figures pale in comparison to the actual costs associated with valley fever. In 2011, California spent approximately $2.2 billion in valley fever-related hospital expenses.
Climate change has been singled out as a possible cause for the outbreaks.
Coccidioidomycosis or cocci (pronounced “coxy”), the fungus that causes valley fever, thrives in dry, undisturbed soil. It becomes airborne when that soil is disturbed – whether it’s by dirt bikes, construction crews, or farmers putting in a new fruit or nut orchard. It can travel on the wind as far as 75 miles away. Years of climate change-fueled drought and a 240 percent increase in dust storms appear to have led to a swift rise in the number of people diagnosed with the illness across the Southwest.
Adding to the threat of valley fever is that 49% of farmworkers are undocumented and unlikely to seek medical care for fear of deportation.
Like 68 percent of the estimated 800,000 farmworkers in California, Gutierrez was born in Mexico. An estimated 49 percent of the state’s farmworkers lack work authorization and most live under the federal poverty line in unincorporated communities with few public services.
Undocumented residents are far less likely to visit a doctor or a hospital, even for urgent medical care. This puts an already at-risk group of people at greater risk of health complications.
Other’s are forced to make a choice between eating or medicine.
Like many farmworkers who contract the illness, Gutierrez found the cost of the antifungal medication needed to treat valley fever totally unaffordable. At the height of the illness, it cost $1,200 for two months of pills because he had to take two to three times as many as one would if they were treating a typical candida infection.
He didn’t have insurance at the time and said his family often had to choose between food and his medication. He still isn’t able to work regularly and his family mainly survives on the money his wife, Maria, makes in the fields.
People took to Twitter to worry about what this meant for the state and its farmworkers.
With more than 800,000 at-risk farmworkers, people who work in the fields to help deliver foods to plates across the country, this is an urgent problem.
Valley fever could leave large groups of the community unable to work.
While some offered up first-hand experience on their battle with valley fever.
Although valley fever is often mild with no symptoms, it has the potential to be deadly – especially in at-risk groups. Symptoms include fatigue, cough, fever, night sweats and can progress to painful skin lesions and fluid-filled lungs.
Thankfully, vaccines are in the works but they won’t be a silver bullet.
Two vaccines are in the works – at the University of Texas and the University of Arizona – but it’s not clear how close they are to being tested on humans.
Three members of Congress from the Southwest last month introduced a federal bill, the FORWARD Act, in an effort to increase public awareness of the disease while “promoting the development of novel treatments and a vaccine.”
Graduation ceremonies are a little slice of life and society. Behind every cap and stole there are stories of heroism and struggle not only involving the graduates but often having to do with their parents. Moms and dads all over the world have done their best to see their children enjoy better opportunities in life. As the value of labor has shifted from privileging manual work and trades to giving more to those who work with information, traditional occupations such as farming have been affected by a decline in wages and by the crushing shadow of big companies (nowadays it is very hard for any farmer to subsist on their own). That is why stories that involve farmer parents seeing their kids graduate from university are so inspiring. If you have worked in the fields as a picker or even if you have done some gardening under the blistering sun you know how much of a toll working in a field can take on your body. If you haven’t, look to a father’s or uncle’s or Abuelo’s hands and focus on the callous surface that endless hours of working with la tierra has done to the skin. Every wrinkle tells a story of survival and proud trabajo.
In honor of farmers worldwide, and to celebrate Farm Workers Day, we have chosen some inspirational snippets of life featuring graduates and their farmer parents, who worked with their hands so their offspring’s mind could thrive. There are not enough ways to say gracias, are there?
This graduate who honors her farmer parents
Credit: Twitter. @UCMerced
Merced Anna Ocegueda is a Latina college senior who graduated from University of California, Merced, earlier this year. This 22-year-old psychology major posted this picture on Twitter. As they say, una imagen dice + que mil palabras. Her parents are still wearing their picking equipment. Her post went viral and soon newspapers started knocking in the door. Ocegueda told The Fresno Bee: “My parents came here for a better future and a better life for their children. “The educational opportunities weren’t great. My parents encouraged me to better my education so I wouldn’t have to work in the fields like them.”
For Selena Huapilla-Perez graduation she dressed up in her cap and gown and posed in the fruit fields alongside her parents to honor their sacrifice as farmers.
In a post about her gruadtion, Huapilla said “I always tell my parents, my sisters and brother that this belongs more to them than to me.” This year she graduated with a degree in Interdisciplinary Humanities from Michigan State University.
This recent grad went above and beyond to make her dreams come true, thanks to her hard work, and her parent’s struggles.
Erica Alfaro, a 29-year-old, dedicated her master’s degree with her parents and celebrated with a powerful photoshoot where they work.
This Brazilian queen who thanked her farmer parents during her graduation ceremony
Credit: YouTube. @AlamedaCasaEditorial
It is a moment worthy of a few tears. A Brazilian student stops the party, descends the stairs and calls her parents. Everyone claps. They all know that her family is de origen humilde and that they have moved Heaven and Earth for her to be there. You can watch this tender and empowering moment here.
Farmer parents sure teach some good ethics and excellent saving skills
Credit: Twitter. @KillerPunchZero
If precarious conditions can teach you anything is that you gotta take care of what you got. Farming is such a serendipitous occupation (a flood or a tornado can wipe out the years harvest and any earnings for the coming months, as many farmers have recently experienced throughout our climate-change-stricken planet), that those que trabajan en el campo know that life is better with no debt. What a great lesson. Hard work, dedication.
De tal palo tal astilla
Credit: Twitter. @BigDuce79
So who is proud of who? The farmer father who sent his son to college or the son whose father sent him? Well, it is both. Struggle can either bring people closer together or split them apart. We hope it is always the latter.
Can you spare a minute and read this amazing story?
Credit: Facebook. Humans of Bombay
India is a country where social mobility is almost impossible. Many regions of the Southeast Asian country still live under a caste system that basically translates in zero opportunities for those who are born with nothing or with very little. That is why this story from the amazing storytelling collective Humans of Bombay is so powerful. It is the story of a father who had to migrate to the city from his farming village. There, he leads a simple life but makes sure his son goes to university. The son’s attitude will melt your heart. Does the story sound familiar? We are sure it resonates with many Latino families across the United States.
The son of a Filipino farmer who got a full scholarship at Harvard
Credit: filipino-farmer-son-gets-full-scholarship-from-harvard-university-proves-hard-work-beats-fate-2.jpg. Digital image. The Development Times
The Philippines is one of the most unequal countries in the world, an impoverished nation that up until today has failed to keep up with other Asian economies. As much as 15% of Filipinos work overseas as domestic workers or construction workers. Those who live in the country need to work extra hard just to make ends meet. So the story of Romnick Blanco, the son of a rice and vegetable farmer, is the stuff that dreams are made of. He received a full scholarship to study at Harvard after excelling at his high school in Manila. By the way, he had to cross a river every single day to go to school.
Credit: q2-5. Digital image. Readers Portal.
His father was a cocoa farmer and his mother sold coal, he is now a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania
Credit: IMG_20180419_173741. Digital image. Savannah News Online
Conditions for farmers in Africa are tough, as multinational corporations pay low wages for prices products such as cocoa. Shadrack Osei Frimpong is a Ghanian dynamo who excelled at school and made his way to the United States. He is now giving back to his community, establishing a tuition-free girls’ school in his village. What an inspiring young man. Those who succeed despite a tough beginning are often the most generous and amazing human beings. African youth face many challenges, including guerrilla warfare, human trafficking and disease, so it is amazing to see ow someone from a rural area could actually work towards better conditions not only for himself, but for his whole community.
Last but not least, this Indonesian son of farmers who graduated from Columbia University in New York City
Credit: 10.-Graduation-S2-1. Digital Image. Mengglobal Indonesia
Robinson Sinurat is the fifth child of a family of seven. His parents did not finish their schooling because of financial struggles, so the odds were stacked against Robinson. He knew that he wanted to study physics, so he borrowed money from a friend to pay for university fees in Indonesia and ate only once a day. After graduating from college he worked in an NGO in the capital city of Jakarta, where he started studying English to apply for graduate school. His academic and professional accomplishments caught the eye of Columbia… and the rest, as they say, is history. You can read all about his improbable journey here.
This hombre hermoso from Thailand whose dirty clothes speak of a tough life
Credit: Facebook. @Chesney O’Donnell
The contrast is striking. This Thai farmer almost looks shy in front of the camera. The moraleja is clear: be very, very thankful for everything that your parents have done for you.
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