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California strawberries, grown by indigenous hands

california strawberries
Photo: Manuel Ortiz Escámez. P360P

By Eulalia Mendoza 

My name is Eulalia, I've been working up to eight-hour days in the fields here in Oxnard, Ventura County, for 10 years. The winter strawberry season is coming up - Pomona and Rosalia - and very soon, in March, the next working season will begin, with strawberries Q46, San Andreas, Camarosa? in fact, in Ventura County, more than 10 varieties of strawberries are produced and all of them require specific hands and work that not everyone dares to do.

However, as an indigenous community of Mexican origin ?from the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán? we have faced, from the first moment we arrived in the United States, the constant indifference of the governments ?local and federal?

The COVID-19 pandemic only made it clear that the indigenous population is not protected in the same way as the rest of the migrant population because there are no laws made for us. We continued to work in the most critical moments of the pandemic.

For us, there are no quarantine periods and the fact that most migrant workers do not have access to a social security number in the U.S. makes it difficult for us to access health or social services.

Our indigenous community pays the same taxes as any other person with legal residence; that is why we believe that our essential rights are being ignored.

Those who have been sickened by COVID-19 have not been able to access support programs at their jobs and the government ignores the housing problem we have faced for decades. Those who have been absent from their jobs because of the pandemic have not been able to earn enough money to pay the high rents.

And those indigenous people who, despite low wages, manage to scrape together those resources, cannot afford to rent or buy decent housing because they do not have a social security record in the state, which, in turn, limits indigenous migrants' options for health services. U.S. bureaucracy prevents us from accessing essential services.

It is estimated that in Ventura County alone, there are about 20,000 migrants who speak an indigenous language; however, those are only official census figures, so it is possible that the count could be as high as 40,000.

Not only do we face difficulties for being indigenous working as migrants in the U.S., but we also face difficulties for being women: they don't let us aspire to positions occupied by men because they believe we are incapable of performing as "ponchadoras" or "mayodromas".

Most of us indigenous women come from families where we have been taught to nod and obey orders, customs that do not disappear when we arrive in the U.S., which is why many women understand very little Spanish, let alone English.

Women who decide to assert their right to equality are, more often than not, frowned upon by their own community; however, I hope that the new generations of working women will not, under any circumstances, submit to the opinion of men. If we women want to do something, we should do it. We have the same right to do it and we deserve the same respect.

And as an indigenous migrant community - both women and men - we ask the rest of the migrant community to look at us with equality and respect. We want to end discrimination because of our migrant status and towards our culture - our ethnicity and our language. I am proud of who I am, and you should be proud of who you are.

* Eulalia Mendoza lives in Ventura County. She is an indigenous farm worker from Oaxaca, Mexico. This text was written with the editorial support of Cristian Carlos. 

You may be interested in: America has been and will be a nation of immigrants.

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