OXNARD, Calif. — Through rain, fires, heat, and the pandemic, California’s farmworkers continued to work in agricultural fields. At 15-years-old, Flor Martinez witnessed the hardships of the job firsthand.
“It wasn’t as easy as it sounds sometimes. Even just the heat or the backbreaking work, or, you know you do not get a hot lunch. You are on the field every day. Your lunch break is your cold sandwich because you cannot just drive to McDonald’s. I don’t think the breaks are even long enough for that,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s family came to the U.S. from Jalisco, Mexico, in hopes of a better life. In order to provide for their family, they worked on California’s farms. It is estimated that about 800,000 Californians are farm workers. About 75% of them are undocumented, according to the Center for Farmworker Families.
Eventually, Martinez became a DACA recipient, but she never forgot what it was like to work in those fields picking grapes. Especially, when COVID-19 restrictions forced many to stay home. During the pandemic, farm workers — part of the state’s essential workers — kept working despite facing their own challenges.
“We had a shortage of toilet paper, but we never had a shortage of food thanks to farm workers. Even then, they are the ones that suffer [and] struggle with food insecurity themselves,” Martinez said.
While many farmworkers collect low wages, the health challenges of the pandemic created another hurdle, leaving some unable to work.
That is why Martinez created The Celebration Foundation also known as Celebration Nation. A mutual aid organization that provides food, household supplies, and baby essentials for the Latino and farm worker communities impacted by the pandemic.
Each month, the organization provides for about 1,500 families in need. Through a GoFundMe campaign, Martinez raised over $200,000 for those families. According to Martinez, while many people received unemployment and stimulus checks, most farm workers did not have access to those funds, as many are undocumented.
“It feels good to provide these necessities to these families each month. I feel even better knowing that the community is standing up for these communities and are allowing me to do my part,” Martinez said.
Martinez remains hopeful that her organization’s work will bring light to the struggles these communities face. Until then, she will do everything she can to give back and be a voice for those who might need it most.