MATTAWA, Wash. – More than 30 people marched on Wednesday afternoon holding signs calling for increased farmworker rights, in what marked the third rally organized by Latino activists this week.
In the midst of the crowd was Guadalupe Gomez, who has worked in Central Washington fields for almost a decade.
A few weeks ago, she broke out in hives because of a reaction she had to some freshly sprayed chemicals, she said. But it wasn’t until three hours after she began working that she left for the clinic.
The working conditions are harsh as it is because most employers don’t take the necessary precautions to protect workers, Gomez said, and the pandemic has made everything worse.
“It’s scary right now because you’re putting yourself in danger of getting the virus every single day, but you need to make money to live,” Gomez said.
Orchards supplied workers with personal protective equipment when rules were initially pushed out, she said. Now workers are told to provide their own masks and other safety equipment.
This march was the third this week for farmworker rights and solidarity. The events were organized by educator Bryan Vazquez and Eduardo Castañeda Diaz, who is a state representative candidate for the 13th district.
“We’re taking a stance against farmworker exploitation,” Vazquez said, speaking to the crowd and stressing the importance of creating a space for people to share their experiences.
The group marched through neighborhoods where most labor and fieldworkers live, accompanied by a Mariachi band that serenaded workers at home in a display of gratitude for the work they do.
Some teachers present at the rally highlighted the importance of education.
Many students in Mattawa work in the fields during the summer . It’s generational work that immigrant grandparents, parents, sons and daughters have done, said 26-year-old Lucy Tapia, who is the communications coordinator for the Wahluke School District.
It’s hard work, Tapia said, but it has taught many young people, including herself, to appreciate the hard work and sacrifices of their parents.
But that doesn’t mean people should accept exploitation, she said. Working in vineyards is especially excruciating, she said. There’s no shade to sit under during 10-minute breaks and the water that is set near the workers gets hot as the day progresses.
Many parents and students are still working in the fields through this pandemic, Tapia said.
“It’s important to show respect for campesinos in Mattawa. Whether they’re here temporarily or full time, they deserve respect,” Tapia said.
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