Radio Indígena Becomes Key Source Of Coronavirus Information For Many Farmworkers

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Migrant workers harvest strawberries at a farm near Oxnard, California. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)
Migrant workers harvest strawberries at a farm near Oxnard, California. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

A radio station is playing a key role in informing farmworkers who don’t speak English or Spanish about the coronavirus pandemic.

Radio Indígena in Oxnard, California, broadcasts to field workers in their indigenous languages. There are an estimated 20,000 indigenous immigrants in Ventura County alone that the station serves.

“It's very important to reach farmworkers that do speak indigenous languages given the nature that these languages are oral,” says Genevieve Flores-Haro, the associate director of Radio Indígena. “And so we found that audio and video have been a really critical way of reaching farmworkers with important information that changes daily.”

Many indigenous farmworkers didn’t even know about the coronavirus until they noticed food flying off the shelves and toilet paper shortages, Flores-Haro says. It’s also difficult to communicate with them about the virus because there is no word for it in their languages.

“You have to describe what it is, so you have to describe the symptoms. You can say that it's like the flu because there is a word for flu,” she says. “But you just have to try and get as close as you can to what virus in English means.”

In Ventura County, there are 384 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 13 deaths, according to the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services.

It’s also a busy and competitive time for California agricultural workers as they begin harvesting strawberries, Flores-Haro says. During strawberry season, workers are paid a piece rate.

“Typically farm workers get paid hourly. But with the piece rate season, they are paid based off of the boxes that they pick,” she says. “So there is an urgency to pick as many boxes as you can in order to bring home a bigger paycheck, essentially.”

Like grocery store workers and delivery drivers, farmworkers are now considered essential during the pandemic. But they have long struggled to get fair access to health care, unemployment and disability benefits, and clean and safe working conditions, she says.

“They've been given this new title as heroic, but the reality for them, much like grocery workers, is at the end of the day, it's about putting food on the table,” she says. “I think for many folks, they don't really think about the worker that picked their food. ... And so, my hope after all this is done is that we see real change for farmworkers.”

Cassady Rosenblum produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on April 16, 2020.


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