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talk to flowers

talk to flowers
With love and dedication, farmers take care of the flowers where they work, as flower shop workers in Pescadero, California face economic, housing, health, and other inequalities that add to their daily lives. Photo: Manuel Ortiz

Listen to this note:

 

María Gudiel Martínez speaks and sings to the plants. He works at a flower shop in Pescadero, California. "Some people will think that you are crazy for talking to flowers, but they are alive, they feel and thus grow more beautiful."

While we talk, Gudiel transplants some tradescantias nanouk flowers; from large pots to small ones. He does it meticulously but with quick movements. 

talk to flowers
María Gudiel Martínez is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico. He is over 50 years old. He has been living in the United States for 17 years. Photo: Manuel Ortiz

Gudiel lives in a rented room in Half Moon Bay. Years ago I lived in a ?trail? [mobile home] in Pescadero, but a tree fell on it due to strong winds and was destroyed. She was trapped and escaped with injuries. 

?I would like to live in Pescadero again, not in a trailer because it scares me, but there is no housing there. There is a lot of land, and many people like me work there, but we have nowhere to live, so we sleep in Half Moon Bay, in rooms, sometimes in piles, is that how it is here? 

He works from seven in the morning to four in the afternoon every day. The rest of the day she cleans the house, takes care of her 6-year-old granddaughter and, one of her favorite activities: cooks. He says that the dishes that come out best for him are entomatado chicken and Oaxacan mole. 

When I ask him what he likes most about his job, his face lights up, he takes a deep breath and responds: "Working with flowers calms me down, it's something I really enjoy." 

What do people who work in the fields in Pescadero need? I ask him. ?Housing, as I told you, but also other things. There are no laundries or clinics here. We also need to be treated well, sometimes they humiliate us, we need to be paid well, we are humble, but we work hard and with love. 

The issue of housing is essential for these workers, as the median home price in San Mateo County exceeds $1.9 million, making it the most expensive county in California, according to a recent survey by the California Association of Realtors.

Joaquín Jiménez, a Mexican migrant and today mayor of Half Moon Bay, commented during an interview for Peninsula 360 Press that During 2015-2016, many people who were engaged in essential jobs were being asked to evacuate or their rent would be increased from one day to the next, regardless of whether they were left on the street.

When talking about the agricultural workers of Half Moon Bay, Joaquín assured that they are "modern slaves," because they are forced to live there, with a low salary, without decent housing, suffering from abuse and excessive work.

María Elena Ramírez also speaks with plants. He is 69 years old and has been working in the fields of Half Moon Bay for 24 years. She is originally from Michoacán, Mexico. Her husband, Jesús Ramírez Gutiérrez, died on July 21 of last year. 

talk to flowers
María Elena Ramírez, in her free time, does the same thing as at work: she takes care of her majestic flowers and tends to the small garden that her husband left behind. Photo: Manuel Ortiz

In addition to the pain over Jesus' death, his departure put the family in serious financial trouble, since his salary was used to pay the rent for their home. ?The rents are very high. Now, there is barely enough money to pay expenses and there is very little left for food, says Ramírez.

Rita Mancera, director of the organization BRIDGE of the South Coast, commented in an interview for Peninsula 360 Press, that housing It is really a problem of social justice, because there are so many reasons why they say that housing cannot be achieved, there are so many reasons why they say that it is a very difficult, very long-term job, which is very complicated. 

José Luis Flores, a 70-year-old farmer, has a wide musical repertoire on his cell phone. In the many meetings I have had with him, one of our central themes is music. Listen to everything, in both Spanish and English, from rancheras to Creedence. 

talk to flowers
José Luis Flores is originally from Nayarit, Mexico. He has been working in the fields of Half Moon Bay for 38 years. Like most agricultural workers, he has sent, for 30 years, between 800 and 900 dollars a fortnight to his family in Mexico. Photo: Manuel Ortiz

Flores is originally from Mexico, dHe lives in a shared room, in a house on a ranch where 17 other agricultural workers live, who take turns using a kitchen and a bathroom. 

Sharing common areas is normal among residents, since it is estimated that the price of homes in California increased more than 60 thousand dollars compared to March 2023.

According to the Association of Realtors, the number of home sales in California decreased in the month of March 2024, due to the increase in mortgage rates, with a decrease of 7.8 percent, compared to 4.4 percent in March but of the year 2023, which has made it increasingly difficult to acquire a decent home.]

Flores, like Gudiel and Ramírez, puts his heart into his work. When he talks about the plants, the countryside, how to cut Brussels sprouts, he does it as if he were talking about a loved one. He loves his job, but he is very aware of the problems that exist, and does not hesitate to mention them. 

?We, Mexicans, grow the food that people put on their tables. We do work that no one else wants to do, because it's hard. Even so, we are not always valued as workers or as human beings? says Flores. 

"We are poorly paid, the conditions of our homes need to be improved, there is a lack of washing machines, many sleep on the floor of a living room or hallway, there is no privacy, and this affects our mood." 

On January 23, 2023, a terrifying moment occurred among the farm workers of Half Moon Bay, a 67-year-old man opened fire on a farm, where 7 people were killed.

After the shooting, authorities saw a great need for safe housing for Half Moon Bay, where officials already plan to build nearly four dozen manufactured homes, a new housing area known as Stone Pine Cove, located less than 10 minutes away. foot of the center of Half Moon Bay, this seeks to support low-income farm workers and other families displaced from mushroom farms.

Officials cobbled together the $16 million budget for Stone Pine Cove from a combination of federal, state and local sources, plus some other resources.

Two other major housing projects for farmworkers are also being worked on in the area. These projects could create about 200 units of affordable housing in coastal San Mateo County.

The shooting also prompted the creation of a task force to inspect all farm housing to ensure they meet health and safety standards. County officials say that of the approximately 50 farms they have visited that provide housing, they have found no serious violations, but more than a quarter have been ordered to make fixes such as repairing unsafe wiring and ensuring a clean water supply.

For the future, Half Moon Bay plans a 40-unit apartment building for agricultural workers 55 and older. Meanwhile, the county is in the process of purchasing a former flower nursery where 100 more homes could be built.

 

You may be interested in: Joaquín Jiménez, from Mexican migrant to mayor of Half Moon Bay

Manuel Ortiz
Manuel Ortiz
He is a Mexican journalist and documentary photographer based in Redwood City. He is co-founder and director of Peninsula 360 Press. He has more than 20 years documenting international migration and social justice issues in various countries, including Mexico, the United States, Colombia, El Salvador, Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, France, Japan, and Ukraine. He has a degree in Sociology and a master's degree in documentary film from UNAM.

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