Things That Matter

As Wildfires Continue To Spread Across California Many Latino Workers Are Caught In The Midst Of Danger

It seems that it has become increasingly common for dangerous wildfires to spread throughout both northern and southern California this time of year. In the last few years, the state has seen massive blazes that have taken lives and have even destroyed communities. This year is no different as California is currently facing multiple fires across the state.

Most notably, the Kincade fire in wine country north of San Francisco, that has burned through more than 73,000 acres, and the Getty Fire that has consumed over 600 acres on a hillside in West Los Angeles. This has caused massive evacuations in communities across the state and has left many wondering about their homes, loved ones and the safety of others. Over the weekend, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency as multiple high-intensity fires, including the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and the Tick Fire in the Santa Clarita area, destroyed many homes and displaced tens of thousands of Californians. 

What may be forgotten throughout all this is the effect that these natural disasters have on communities of color that both live and work in the affected areas.

Credit: @VotoLatino / Twitter

In Southern California, the Getty Fire has affected neighborhoods near West LA like Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. The city has put out calls for immediate evacuations but for some house workers, they never got that memo from their bosses when they showed up to work on Monday. Many can’t afford to miss work due to financial constraints and fears that if they didn’t show they could be fired.  

“I met Carmen Solano when I spotted her taxi pulling up into a driveway. I’d just seen homes on fire a street over and immediately wondered why she was arriving instead of leaving. Turns out she was a housekeeper and had no idea the area was under mandatory evacuation,” Britney Mejia, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times wrote in a tweet. 

Other workers like Solano, who doesn’t drive or speak English, showed up to work on Monday and were immediately met with police officers telling them to leave the area immediately due to the nearby fires. Marcela Aquino was on her way to her house cleaning job but was unaware of the nearby Getty fire when she left home that morning. By the time she got to her boss’s house he had called her to say he had already evacuated. 

Even after workers were told to go back and return home, the first thing at the top of their minds was the potentially lost wages that could be missed for not working. 

Credit: @brittny_mejia / Twitter

For many, missing a day of work is the difference between bringing food on the table or missing out on paying that month’s rent. Aquino attempted multiple calls to reach her boss but there was no answer. 

“I don’t want to miss work,” Aquino told Mejia. “They already gave me a week off. They didn’t tell us. They need to tell us not to come.”

Gardeners were still tending to yards while evacuations were underway but were met with LAPD officers that were telling them to leave the area. The gardeners were weary leaving their jobs even with a nearby wildfire. 

“No sir, you can’t finish your yard. You’ve got to go,” the officer said, according to the LA Times. “I saw their determination to finish the job.”

In northern California, the Kincade Fire is currently burning through Sonoma County impacting] many migrant communities. According to a Sonoma County Farmworker Health Survey published four years ago this month, it found that 95 percent of the county’s farmworkers reported being Latino or Hispanic.

Credit: @NorCalGrant / Twitter

Things haven’t been much better in northern California where many agricultural workers, predominately Latino, have had to leave their job sites due to dangerous conditions. Making matters worse is how fast these fires have spread in a matter of days leaving some worried about losing their homes as well as their jobs. 

In an attempt to help these families, the San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation has kicked off it’s NorCal Wildfire Relief Fund to help some North Bay farmworkers that have been caught in this disaster. In 2017, the same relief raised $1.5 million when people couldn’t work because of wildfires affecting the North Bay. 

“The Kincade Fire has hit during harvest season in Wine Country — a critical time for our farmworker communities. The fire is displacing these hard working families and destroying homes and jobs. Several of our community partners are working overnight to shelter these families who have nowhere else to turn. We want to do everything in our power to support them and remind them that they are not alone,” Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of Latino Community Foundation, said in a press release. “More than 70% of our vineyard workers are Latinos and immigrants, and they are the most vulnerable in these times of crisis.

California inmates, which are 70 percent are Black and brown, are also doing their part on the frontlines taking down fires. 

Credit: @VotoLatino / Twitter

California inmates located in Northern California are also assisting with rescue efforts. Almost 20 percent of the roughly 17,000 individuals assigned to fires in peak season were California inmates in 2018.

“Reminder that thousands of inmates in California are putting out wildfires for $2 dollars a day (plus an additional $1/hr when they’re fighting active fires). Almost 70% of the CA inmate population is Black and Brown,” tweeted Voto Latino.

We are all praying and hoping all these lives are safe and sound. To make a contribution to the Norcal Wildfire Relief Fund, click here. 

READ: This Latina Used Her Business Savvy to Launch An App That Helps Undocumented Students Find Financial Aid And It’s Amazing

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California Sets Vaccination Plan For Agricultural Workers During Next Phase

Things That Matter

California Sets Vaccination Plan For Agricultural Workers During Next Phase

Brent Stirton / Getty Images

The world is racing to vaccinate everyone to put a stop to the relentless Covid-19 pandemic. In the U.S., states and counties are rolling out their own plans based on suggestions from health experts. California, home to the largest population of farmworkers, is making them a priority.

California has laid out their vaccination plan and farmworkers are being prioritized.

California is facing a relentless Covid-19 surge of infections, deaths, and hospitalizations. According to The New York Times, California has the second-highest level of infections per capita in the U.S. More than 30,000 people have died of Covid in California and the vaccination effort has been severely lagging.

California’s vaccination plan has been criticized for its very slow roll out.

According to the California Department of Public Health, more than 816,000 doses of the virus have been given to residents. There have been more than 2 million vaccine doses shipped to California. Currently, California, the most populated state in the country, is still in Phase 1A. Phase 1A is for healthcare workers and long-term care residents. The Vaccinate All 58 campaign claims that there are 3 million people in California in Phase 1A. Almost 40 million people live in California.

Activists have been calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to make sure that farmworkers are prioritized.

California is home to the largest concentration of farmworkers in the U.S. The Center for Farmworker Families claims that 500,000 to 800,000 farmworkers, or about 1/3 to 1/2 of the farmworker populations, live in California. Seventy-five percent of farmworkers in California are undocumented.

As the rest of the state was able to shelter in place, farmworkers did not stop working. They provided a necessary lifeline to the nation in keeping the food supply running. Farmworkers are more likely to contract Covid because of their living conditions. Studies show that the low wages that farmworkers are paid means that many live in crowded conditions.

READ: As The U.S. Rolls Out The COVID-19 Vaccine, What’s The Future Of Vaccine Access In Latin America?

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Gavin Newsom Appoints Alex Padilla To Kamala Harris’ Vacant Senate Seat

Things That Matter

Gavin Newsom Appoints Alex Padilla To Kamala Harris’ Vacant Senate Seat

Credit: DNCC via Getty Images

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is leaving behind a Senate seat representing California. Gov. Gavin Newsom was under pressure to appoint a person of color and he is coming through. Alex Padilla, the Secretary of State of California, will be filling the seat.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has appointed the first Latino senator from California.

Alex Padilla has a spent more than a decade serving the people in California from Los Angeles City Council president to California Senate to secretary of state. Padilla was the favorite to take the seat and gives Southern California rare representation in the United States Senate. As Secretary of State of California, Padilla stood against President Trump and refused to turn over voter data to the administration in 2017.

Padilla was raised by hard working immigrants.

Padilla’s mother and father emigrated from Mexico to Los Angeles individually and eventually met and married. As a shortline cook and a housekeeper, Padilla’s parents instilled in him the value of hard work.

“Through his tenacity, integrity, smarts and grit, California is gaining a tested fighter in their corner who will be a fierce ally in D.C., lifting up our state’s values and making sure we secure the critical resources to emerge stronger from this pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement. “He will be a Senator for all Californians.”

Padilla is going to the Senate keep fighting for the values he has defended.

As the country gets ready for a Biden administration, there is a lot of attention on the recovery effort. The Biden administration is going to be tasked with bringing the country back from the brink. Covid has wrecked the economy and upended the lives of millions of families. Biden and the current Senate and House will be responsible for distributing the vaccine and getting the American people back to where they were before the virus devastated the nation.

Congratulations, Sen. Alex Padilla.

California is happy to know that you will be representing us in the Senate.

READ: Here Are The Southern California Latino Politicians Gov. Newsom Should Consider For Kamala Harris’ Empty Seat

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