A new report– Experts in Their Fields: Contributions and Realities of Indigenous Campesinos during the COVID-19 pandemic– uplifts the voices of Indigenous Campesinos who participated in the COVID-19 Farmworker Study (COFS). COFS conducted surveys with over 300 Indigenous Campesinos during Phase One (May-July 2020) and 14 in-depth interviews with Mixtec, Zapotec, and Triqui language-speaking Campesinos during Phase Two (September-November 2020). The Indigenous and immigrant people who harvest, tend, and pack fresh produce and other agricultural products with great skill, professionalism, and care are rooted in the foodways and agricultural practices of their home communities throughout the Americas. We use the term Campesino, with a capital “C,” to honor the occupational and cultural identities of COFS participants. The term “Indigenous,” with a capital “I,” refers to people who hail from pueblos originarios (home communities) in Southern Mexico and Central America where Indigenous languages other than Spanish are spoken, in some cases exclusively. At times, “farmworkers” or “agricultural workers” is used when describing how Campesinos are classified by federal or state agencies or in other kinds of research.
Without Indigenous Campesinos’ knowledge, experiences, and insights about the land, crops, and the environment, the multi-billion dollar agricultural economy in California would not function. Indigenous Campesino COFS participants graciously shared their lived experiences during the height of the pandemic, which included: (1) lost hours at work due to pandemic disruptions and unlivable salaries; (2) inaccessible resources including health care, financial assistance, eviction protection, food security, and COVID-19 testing; (3) stress and anxiety over rising costs and severe difficulties meeting basic needs like housing, food, childcare, and bills; (4) fear around contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to children and family members, not having healthcare, and being out of work while sick; (5) parents’ concerns about their children’s emotional wellbeing and academic progress during the abrupt and under-supported transition to internet-access based online learning.
All of these issues are exacerbated by participants’ mixed immigration statuses and the fact that information about health and resources is rarely provided in Indigenous languages or in ways that are accessible to communities. These problems are not new to Indigenous Campesinos, who have been marginalized economically, linguistically, and politically for many years. Despite being proclaimed “essential workers,” agricultural workers have faced long-term systematic exclusion from dignified professional status and accompanying health and labor benefits. The situation has worsened for Indigenous Campesinos during the pandemic. They have experienced intensified chronic job and income insecurity, unhealthful and over-crowded housing conditions, stress and fear, and language barriers. Indigenous Campesinos continue to experience harsh and life-threatening circumstances despite the return to normal routines for other members of U.S. society.
COFS partners are mobilizing these research findings to: (1) advocate that county, state, and federal governments develop infrastructures of support and care, and deliver urgently needed resources, direct financial relief, healthcare, testing, vaccinations, and food to farmworkers; (2) highlight policy opportunities that address long-standing, emergent, and ongoing inequalities in Campesino communities; and (3) create educational and outreach tools that support the needs of Campesinos and the front-line organizations serving them.
COFS is facilitated by the California Institute for Rural Studies in collaboration with a team of social science researchers and campesino-serving community based-organizations. For the COFS Indigenous Report, the Binational Center for the Development of Indigenous Oaxacan Communities (Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, or CBDIO), Vista Community Clinic / FarmWorker CARE Coalition (VCC/FWCC), and Líderes Campesinas contributed with the stories and interviews of Indigenous Campesinos. Social science researchers Drs. Dvera Saxton, Sarah M. Ramirez, Rick Mines, and Bonnie Bade, CIRS Associate Researcher Alondra Santiago, and CIRS Administrative Manager Cristel Jensen and CIRS Director Ildi Carlisle-Cummins facilitated research and analysis in partnership with CBDIO and VCC/FWCC leadership and staff, including: CBDIO Executive Director Dr. Sarait Martinez, Program Director Oralia Maceda Méndez, and Community Worker Fidelina Espinoza, and VCC’s Migrant Health Program Coordinator Deysi Merino González. Indigenous surveyors and interviewers include: CBDIO’s Alma Herrera, René Martinez-Mendoza, Eugenia Melesio, Renata Monjaraz, Estela Ramirez, Claudia Reyes López, Edith Rojas, Margarita Santiago, Miguel Villegas, Francisca Ramos, Silvia García, Saraí Ramos, Margarita Santiago, Vialet Jarquin, Eugenia Melesio, Fidelina Espinoza, Leocadia Sanchez, Merced Olivera, Irma Luna, and VCC’s Deysi Merino González and Paola A. Ilescas. Drs. Sarah M. Ramirez and Rick Mines led data analysis for the COFS Phase One research. A wide group of community based organizations (CBOs), researchers and policy advocates have contributed to CA COFS; visit www.covid19farmworkerstudy.org for a full list of project partners and supporters.
(Photo Credit: Centro Binacional para el Desarollo Indígena Oaxaqueño)