Things That Matter

Farmworkers Are Putting Their Lives At Risk As They Continue To Work The Fields Despite Raging Wildfires

Natural disasters bring the best in people, but often also the worst. The recent California fires have highlighted the deep inequalities in the state when it comes to socioeconomic status. While the media went head over heels over which celebrity had had to flee their home (pobrecitos!) or which vineyard had been set ablaze (wine, after all, is a luxury rather than a life sustaining product), few have stopped to think about the long lasting effects that the fires have had on the hundreds of workers (some of them undocumented) who keep the region afloat by farming, cleaning and organizing various production processes. 

Well, what you will read now will make your blood boil, as it reveals the deep divide between the haves and the have-nots in the world. 

As the region of Sonoma, California, is still burning residents have fled but farmers are still working away.

Credit: napavalley / Instagram

When fields burn, the air becomes a toxic mix of dust, ashes and harmful gases (imagine smoking 20 cigarettes in less than an hour and you will get an idea of how poisonous this melange can be). Well, residents of the area affected by the Kincade Fire were evacuated when air quality dropped. However, field workers were still expected to toil in the fields.  According to reports, some of these workers were still being bused to and from the fields even as the fires burnt. What people are willing to risk in the name of profit, eh? Just no! As reported by Eater San Francisco, Ariel Kelly, the CEO of community-based recovery effort Corazón Healdsburg, said: “we had about 90 farmworkers in our shelter leave on buses with their employer to go out and pick and then return back to the shelter”. 

The quality of the air was deemed as dangerous! But “they are only field workers”, right? This is totally outrageous! 

Credit: 10kbottles / Instagram

So what does this tell us? That someone, somewhere, decided that the lives of some actual human beings are more valuable than those of others? You bet that’s what happened. We just can’t understand how this thought, which is nothing short of a disgusting act of negligence, can cross someone’s mind. Of course, farmers are mostly migrants who feel, and are, in a vulnerable and marginalized position in which they can’t afford to fight back. Sonoma authorities said: “if somebody wants perfect health, they need to leave our community, because we have smoke here.”

Volunteers came to their aid…

Credit: Sonoma / Instagram

Regardless of the working agreement a company or farm has with a worker, some basic safety needs to be provided. If not legal (because some of these workers live in the dark shadows of an undocumented status that makes them vulnerable), this is at least an ethical mandate. But in the California fires it was volunteers who came to their aid. As reported by Eater San Francisco: “around 300 farm workers sought makeshift shelter in Cloverdale’s Citrus Fairgrounds. Area volunteers rushed to assist the workers and their families, many of whom had fled via car, with little more than the clothes on their backs”. This is such a stark image of negligence. But will someone ever be held accountable?

If they don’t work, they don’t get paid, so they risked their lives to survive (what a contradiction, eh?)

Credit: thelegionofbloomca / Instagram

According to Ariel Kelly from community-based recovery effort Corazón Healdsburg these workers were not even given masks to at least protect themselves from direct contact with the fumes. They are willing to work under these conditions because they get paid per shift and not showing up translates into not being paid, and possibly into not being chosen to work again. Because the extent of the damage caused by the fires remains uncertain, many of these workers want to get what could be the last few pays before a hiatus with no income. 

They are mostly uninsured and live hand to mouth. To top that, they are now unsure about how they will be able to provide for their families.

Credit: machvox/ Instagram

Maegan Ortiz, the executive director of el Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California, told The Guardian, “For a lot of day laborers and household workers, not having a day’s work often means the difference between houselessness or not.  Not having a day’s work is actually a big deal. Not working means not having money for medication for a chronic illness. Not working means not having money for food”. When we read stories like this we can’t help but wonder how on Earth there are still some that think that migrant workers are lazy or that they don’t contribute to the economy, when in fact they are giving everything to make a living. Even if it means risking their health. One thing is for certain. They deserve, and need, more protection. 

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There’s A Mobile Día De Muertos Ofrenda Traveling Around Southern California To Commemorate Victims Of Covid-19

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There’s A Mobile Día De Muertos Ofrenda Traveling Around Southern California To Commemorate Victims Of Covid-19

Jan Sochor / Getty Images

Every year around this time, many Latino families setup their ofrendas and set out pictures and objects belonging to their lost loved ones – in celebration of Día de Muertos.

However, this year’s celebrations are looking very different thanks to the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Not only have many families recently lost loved ones to the virus, they’re also struggling with ways to pay for the often extravagant celebrations as so many are left without work and income. Others are too afraid to gather with their families for fear that they may spread the virus to others. Meanwhile, in some cities, cemeteries (where many of the celebrations take place) have been closed to the public to avoid further contagion risk.

So, to help bridge that divide some communities are finding new and creative ways to help celebrate their lost loved ones amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

A mobile ofrenda will visit some of LA’s neighborhoods most affected by the pandemic.

Día de Muertos takes on a special meaning this year as a deadly pandemic continues to disproportionately affect Latino communities. And although traditional celebrations and events have been canceled, Latino Health Access (a nonprofit that advocates for the health of the local Latino community) plans to bring the celebration to the homes of those most impacted by the virus in Orange County to honor the deceased.

“Many of the events have been canceled, but we still want to honor those people who have passed away this year because of COVID,” Karen Sarabia, program associate for the Latino Health Access COVID-19 response team, told the LA Times.

The group along with a few local artists are converting a 28-foot flatbed truck into the altar, much like a float in the Rose Parade. Residents will be able to take photos with the altar. They can also provide offerings or write down the names of their loved ones and place them on the altar to honor the deceased. 

Ofrendas like this one are a central part of Día de Muertos celebrations.

Credit: Jan Sochor / Getty Images

Giovanni Vazquez, a local artist from Anaheim helping to construct the altar, spoke to the LA Times about the significance of the Day of the Dead. 

“I think it’s important because … this is how we remember all the dead and how we also celebrate the living,” Vazquez said, “This is how we remember that we’re going to go too. No matter which pandemic, no matter what cause, we are also going to die too.”

He continued: “We would like to share the art and try to make people think that death is also colorful and something we can celebrate … Just being thankful that we met the people in our life, even though they have passed, we remember them.”

According to the group, the ofrenda will have the basic components of classical altars in Mexico, where the tradition of Día de Muertos originated. There will be candles, thousands of paper flowers, sugar skulls and many offerings. 

There will be a prominent large skull and several smaller skulls with butterfly wings. Vazquez said those represent “the sacred migration of the living.” Monarch butterflies, which migrate to Mexico in November, are important symbols of Day of the Dead. 

The ofrenda and campaign is more important than ever as Latinos and other minority communities continue to suffer the worst effects of the pandemic.

Latino Health Access is organizing the event as part of the Latino Health Equity Initiative. Orange County launched the program in June in partnership with Latino Health Access after data revealed that the Latino community, particularly in Anaheim and Santa Ana, has taken the brunt of the pandemic in Orange County. 

The Los Angeles Times reported in late September that while Latinos make up 39% of the state’s population, they account for 61% of the state’s cases and 49% of COVID-19 deaths.

Anaheim is 56% Latino and Santa Ana is 77%. The cities account for about 36% of the county’s COVID-19 cases. 

Through the initiative, Latino Health Access is offering testing, outreach, education and referral services. 

California is not alone as cities from El Paso to Chicago create their own Día de Muertos celebrations to commemorate Covid-19 victims.

Credit: Alfonso Castillo Orta / Mexican National Art Museum

At the Mexican National Art Museum in Chicago, the museum has launched it’s exhibit memorializing Latinos who have died of the virus. “Sólo un Poco Aquí: Day of the Dead” honors people who have died from COVID-19 in Chicago and globally, said Antonio Parazan, director of education at the museum.

The exhibit is “paying tribute and remembering … the numerous individuals from our community … during this terrible pandemic,” he said. 

“We’ve had some of the highest number of infections … and a high number of deaths, as well,” Parazan said, noting Latino neighborhoods in Chicago have been among the hardest hit by coronavirus.

Even in Mexico – which has been one of the world’s hardest hit countries – officials are thinking of ways to merge traditional Día de Muertos celebrations with remembrances of Covid-19 victims.

In the town of Xalapa, families are taking photos with a giant Catrina, which is one fo the most iconic symbols of the holiday. And in Mexico City, the cities annual parade is going digital and will feature a special commemoration for Covid-19 victims.

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Volunteer Firefighters From Mexico Went to Oregon to Help Their “Sister City” Contain the Unprecedented Fires

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Volunteer Firefighters From Mexico Went to Oregon to Help Their “Sister City” Contain the Unprecedented Fires

Just when you thought humanity has failed us, someone steps up and shows the world that the generosity of the human spirit is alive and well. 

Last week, a post on Reddit went viral of a group of volunteer firefighters from Guanajuato, Mexico who traveled to the city of Ashland, Oregon to help fight the wildfires that are blazing across the western state.

The fire department is called Heroico Cuerpo de Bomberos Voluntarios, the Heroic Volunteer Fire Department, in English.

The two towns have had a “sister city” relationship for over 50 years. Sister-city relationships are meant to “promote peace and understanding through exchanges that focus on arts and culture, youth and education, business and trade, and community development”.

The internet swiftly erupted into comments praising the volunteer firefighters for their bravery and comradery. “Mexico also sent relief during Katrina. Mexico and Canada are our best allies, always there for us regardless of the politics,” one commenter said. Another chimed in: “Welcome to Oregon, amigos. Mantenga una bota en el quemado.”

The troop of men who traveled from Mexico to the United States were identified as Captain Aldo Iván Ruiz, Captain Juan Armando Alvarez Villegas, Sargent Jorge Luis Anguiano Jasso, Sargent Luis Alfonso Campos Martínez and Miguel Ángel Hernández Lara. They were accompanied by the mayor of Guanajuato, Alejandro Navarro.

“We began the relief work,” Navarro wrote on Twitter. “Very moved by the terrible impact of the fire on families and their homes.”

The Oregon wildfires are just one of the many that are blazing down the West Coast of the United States, taking people’s homes, land, and sometimes, their lives. In more than 1 million acres have burned and two dozen fires are still raging.

“Almost every year since becoming governor, I’ve witnessed historic fire seasons,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently said at a press conference. “Yet this is proving to be an unprecedented and significant fire event for our state.”

Experts are hypothesizing that these unprecedented fires are further evidence of the toll man-made climate change is having on the environment. 

via Getty Images

“I can’t think of any time over the last 100 years where we’ve had serial fire outbreaks, four years running,” said fire historian Stephen Pyne to the Washington Post. “That I can find no record of happening before,” he added. “That is the big switch; that is the phase change.”

Regardless of what has caused the fires, the bravery of these firefighters is worth commendable. Their actions are further proof that borders cannot contain the universal values of kindness, altruism, and brotherhood.

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