Victor Canales Gamiño

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Victor Canales Gamiño is the youth organizing director at Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) at Duke University. In this interview, he discusses his migration to the United States from Mexico when he was only eight years old, his experiences working with farmworkers, SAF’s mission and initiatives, and he elaborates on the ways in which one can get involved to support farmworkers even during the Covid-19 crisis.



Sarah Blanton: All right, let's get started. My name is Sarah Blanton, and today I'm interviewing Victor Canales Gamiño, the youth organizing director with Student Action with Farmworkers. We are doing this interview on Zoom due to the current crisis of Covid-19 and social distancing measures. I am at my home in Yanceyville, North Carolina, and I am talking with Victor, who is currently in Durham. The date is April 17th, 2020, and it is 11:58 AM. Victor, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Victor Canales Gamiño: Thank you so much, Sarah, for allowing us to share our story and share about what our organization does.
SB: Great. [00:00:52] Well, Victor, can you tell me a little bit about yourself, just introduce yourself and tell me where you're from?
VCG: Yeah. So, yeah, Sarah, I was - - My name is Victor Canales Gamiño. Where I'm from? That's a good question [laughter]. I was, if you ask me where I was born, I was born in México, in Guanajuato, México, and when I was eight years old, we migrated to Idaho. If you're talking about culture shock, Idaho is culture shock for me. And so it was interesting because we first started, and we first stopped in Phoenix, Arizona, and I was like, oh, this is like Mexico. I see a lot of Latinos. This is awesome. And then my Dad said, nope, we're actually moving up north and I, we, landed in Idaho. This average sized town, Mountain Home, Idaho, and we lived in a small little apartment and it was ten of us in my household. So, for me, was so different. So it was a culture shock. I did not like pizza. I hated hamburgers. I wanted to eat lots of yummy food that my mom and my grandma made in México. And so it was a little bit different for me. So, I grew up in Idaho since I was eight years old. I be. That's where I did all my education, and so, yeah.
SB: Wow. Which food did you miss the most?
VCG: Nopales, which in English you can translate it to maybe cacti or cactus. Yeah.
SB: Sounds good. So, [00:02:29] how did you begin working with farmworkers? What drew you to this occupation?
VCG: So, growing up in México, I come from a family of farmers; they used to farm their own lands. They had their own ejidos, which was land that was given to them by the Mexican government after the Mexican Revolution. And so my grandparents, both of them farmed. So I would go help them out, you know, in their fields, in their plots of fields. And it wasn't until I was eight years old that we decided to come to the US. We came here without any documents so I wasn't documented and I almost lost my life crossing the Río Grande. It was interesting because my dad did petition for us to get our permanent resident cards but Immigration said, “Bring your family” and my dad said, “Do I need a visa for that?” And they said, “Nope, just bring them however you want.” Pretty much. And that was so wrong, the way they did it. So my dad said, “Okay, I'll bring them over.” And so I had to cross the Río Grande. And so, I came to Idaho and then that's what my dad did in Idaho: He was a farmworker. Oftentimes I would wonder what my dad did in the US because he would send us money so that we could, you know, eat and provide for the whole family. But, you know, the conversion from dollars to pesos is like, whoa, like— my dad's doing something awesome, you know, and so I want to go and do the same thing. So we decided that when we got to Idaho, we were all going to work in the fields. I was like, yes! I'm going to work in the fields. One of the reasons why I wanted to work was because I told my other cousin that I would buy him a truck. And so I had to work now [laughter] and I started working in the fields and that was not a place for a child to be at. And, so, it was super-hot. I wanted to be playing with my friends, with the new friends I made, and I was working like a normal adult, same hours doing the same type of work. So, for me was a little bit hard. It really did hit me hard. And so that's how I started working in actual farm work. You asked, how did I began working with farmworkers? Well, I come from a farmworker background. So, the first time I started working with farmworkers was when I decided to go to college. And this one recruiter came to my high school. His name is Jesse Martínez from the University of Idaho, and he talked about his experience about working in the fields about going to college; he graduated from college. Now he's working for the university. And I saw myself in that -- in him. And I was like, whoa, if he did it, I can do it too. And so I asked him, how do I do it? And he said, well, all you have to do is follow my instructions. I don't promise you that you're going to get admitted to an institution, but I'm going to help you along the way. And I believed him. And I followed every single step. He's like, now you have to do the FAFSA. This is how you do the FAFSA. Now you have to apply, this is how you apply to the University of Idaho. Can you fax me this document? And I remember that sometimes we didn't have enough money to even fax, you know, documents. I would be asking my mom and she'd be like, “Oh, I found some quarters! Let's go fax them, let's go to the store.” And so, it was little by little that I got to college. And so, I - - The program that Jesse Martínez worked in, it was called the College Assistance Migrant Program. It was a federal program designated to help students who come from a farmworker background. They created this family away from home. They supported me financially, socially, culturally; it was the best program ever. And they introduced me to a Student Action with Farmworkers. They're like, hey, there's this internship, you know, we always get some students that get to go to North Carolina and do an internship and work with farmworkers. I was like, yep! I'm down. I talked to other alumni on campus who had gone through the internship and they always recommended it 100%. And so I applied. I didn't get admitted the first time. And I was so bummed out. But then I applied again and then I got in. Because that meant that if I didn't go to the internship, I would go back to work in the fields, which I did every summer of my college breaks or vacations. I got the internship in 2011. I was a junior in college, and it totally, you know - - it changed my life. I worked with legal aid and I worked with their farmworker unit. And so, my job was to go in visit labor camps, talk to the farmworkers, tell them about their rights. But I think what I like the most about doing outreach was that I got to talk to workers, you know, that's my favorite part. You know, sometimes I would go there and I wouldn't even tell them about legal stuff, you know? Let's just get to know the workers. Let's just talk to them and see what their life is like, because they would go on and talk about their families back in México, their daughters’ quinceañeras, or just tell us their story of why they're there, working in the fields. Throughout time they would gain confianza or confidence. You know, they would start talking to us about what's going on. But I think my goal was always, I'm going to go and talk to them about their lives, our lives, and that's it. And then if they bring anything up, then I can tell them, like, “Hey, you know, these are your rights under the law and stuff like that.” So that's how I started working with SAF as an intern. And a little bit after being an intern, I graduated from college and Legal Aid, The Farmworker Unit, they actually hired me as one of their paralegals, so I worked with them for a year. I did the internship there with SAF and then they actually hired me to work for them as a paralegal. And then a couple years, a year after that, the camp program where I was a student, or scholar, they had the recruitment position open. So I decided to apply and I became the recruiter. I was there for about five years. I was I was now the one going to the high schools, talking to the students, sharing my story. And in a way, I was giving back. You know, to a program that gave so much to me. I worked there from 2014 to 2019, so I've been with SAF for about seven or eight months now.
SB: Wow, that is, that's an incredible story. So, I am wondering-- [00:09:17] You said that it sounds like something that ties what you do together is your love of connecting with people. Do you have any particular memories or stories, either with the high schoolers or with the farmworkers that you want to share?
VCG: Yes, so I had a story about when I was recruiting with the College Assistance Migrant Program at the University of Idaho. I would go visit many high schools, and Idaho is an agricultural state, so we have a lot of farmworkers. One of the biggest differences between farmworkers in North Carolina and Idaho is that in North Carolina, there's a lot of migrants, which means that they move throughout the year to find to find work in agriculture, either in North Carolina or New Jersey, Michigan, you know, they're migrating. North Carolina may not be their permanent home. In Idaho, there's a lot of seasonal farmworkers, which means that we, the people that work there, they live within the same community for the most part. I mean, we do still have migrant farmworkers, but the most farmworkers that we have are the ones that actually live in the state or in the community where they do the agricultural work. My job was to visit high schools where there was a lot of agricultural activity, and I went to this one high school at Burley High School. I reached out to the counselor and I asked him, can I meet with some of your students who work in agriculture? And he said, yeah, that's fine. You can come and be with them and I went there. I went to the high school I gave out my presentation. And a lot of the students that were talking to me, I realized that when we had the one-on-one talks, they were like the students who were doing pretty good academically, like – 4.0, 3.9, 3.8. And I was like, oh, okay, because I usually ask to meet with any student who's interested in college, no matter if it's going to be at a different university. I just said any student who comes from this background and who wants to go to college, or maybe they don't know much of what college is like. So I did my presentation, and then I packed everything, and I was on my way out. Outside the door, I see one of my students sitting there from the high school outside my door and he approached me. He's like, hey, are you Victor? And I was like, yeah. Nice to meet you. He's like, hey, I heard that you were coming. I was like, yeah, why weren't you in there? He’s like, oh, my counselor didn't tell me. And I asked him, what do you mean? I told him that, you know, to invite everyone who was interested. He said, I know he didn't invite me. So, as we were talking, I realized that he was a student who was not academically advanced, and so I got so upset. I was like, what?! I wanted to talk to everyone. I was like, I have time to talk to you. I can talk to you right now. He's like, yeah, let's talk. And so we started talking. He worked at a dairy. He worked full time at a dairy. He went to school. And so he was one of the primary breadwinners in his family. And so he's like, that's why I'm not doing well academically. And I was like, no, that's fine. Yeah, I'm not, I'm not judging you, I'm just trying to see what's going on in your situation. And then I told him, hey, do you want to go to college? He's like, yeah. And I said the same thing that Jesse Martínez told me before. I was like, just follow what I'm telling you. I don't promise you that you are going to get admitted, you know, we're going to try. If you don't get admitted, we're going to appeal and then we'll go from there. So just follow my instructions. And he did. He followed all my instructions. He didn't get admitted because he did not meet the GPA requirement, but I told him to appeal, how to write a letter, I reviewed his letter. He submitted it, he submitted references, and he got in. And so for me was like, whoa, like, you know, these, these are the students that we want to help, you know - - yes. We're going to help any student regardless of if they’re doing really good or not. But students who had like las ganas, you know, the ganas factor, you know - - the will to succeed, the will to commit, to continue. And in college, this student became a student senator, he traveled abroad to Spain, and he keeps saying, thank you, Victor, this is all to you. And I was like, no, this is all thanks to you, you know, it's your work. You know, I was just, I was just there along the way to do to help. And he's like, you know, I'm glad that I stayed after your presentation because it totally has changed my life. And so, for me, that's one of the stories that I always tell because a lot of people think that oh, I have to have a high GPA to go to college. No! I was like, my GPA was not even a 3.0 when I applied to the University of Idaho and I barely got admitted, but as long as you have ganas, you know, there's always a way. But that's a story that I will share because that's the type of student that really need the programs that we provide at the federal level or at the state level or within the universities.
SB: Wow, that's, that's a beautiful story. And that was when you were working in recruitment with Student Action with Farmworkers.
VCG: Yes, that is correct.
SB: So [00:14:14] what is your role now?
VCG: My role now, I am the youth organizing director with Student Action with Farmworkers, SAF. We have many different programs. We have a college Into the Fields internship program. That's the one that I did as a student. They provide an internship to students from nationwide who are interested in working alongside with farmworkers. And so what they do is that we bring all these students, about twenty to twenty-five students. And then we provide them to work with an organization that directly provides services to farmworkers - - either a health clinic, legal aid, a migrant education program with the school district - - so those are some of the areas where we placed interns. We have another group. It's a high school youth group and it's called the Levante Leadership Institute, and I am the one who coordinates that program. I work with high school youth who come from a farmworker background. And I also provide services, not just to the youth, but also to the families. So, we provide educational information, we provide information about how to advocate for your own community. We empower them not only in the educational, like, let's go to college, but also like, what are the issues that affect the community? How can you as a student, as a person from this community, empower your community? So we teach them how to advocate, how to lobby, how to protest. All of those things. I have the honor to work alongside with the youth.
SB: Wonderful. So, [00:16:04] with Student Action with Farmworkers, your role specifically looks at the youth. What other kinds of things does this organization do?
VCG: We provide a lot of - - I think Student Action with Farmworkers, you know, what we do is pretty much in the name. We bring students and farmworkers together so that they can create social change and justice within the agricultural system. We do that with working with students from different campuses, working with the community, providing information. Advocating. You know, how can we advocate for farmworkers. We provide a lot of trainings, we visit different universities. We provide trainings or information to churches. If there's a petition going on, if there's a bill that we support, we ask people to support it with us, sign onto the petition, sign onto the bill. We have a lobbyist, (person’s name?), and this lobbyist is at the state assembly in North Carolina, speaking on behalf of SAF and other nonprofits about farmworker issues, support this bill, or don't support this bill because it's detrimental to farmworkers, you know, and their lives. And so that's one of the things that we do in that program. My colleague Bianca works on that. It's called From the Ground Up. And so she's in charge of actually coordinating also like National Farmworker Awareness Week. So pretty much, getting the word out to the community, to people who might not know about farmworkers, and then she also provides information on how to support, how to take action. Do you want to go on a on a protest with us? Do you want to sign this petition? Do you want us to go to your school and talk about our programs? And so that's one of the ways that we do it. We also have the Into the Fields like I said, internship and fellowship. The internship is ten weeks, the fellowship is six months. And pretty much the internship is where we place the students in different areas: health, migrant education, legal aid, and lobbying, or with a lobbyist. Those are the different areas where we place students and then the fellowship is mostly working with health agencies and they're there for six months because we want them to be there for the whole season where farmworkers are working. It's not just ten weeks, they're actually there for the whole summer, and then a little bit more into October and November when it, when it all quiets down. We also have a Solidaridad Internship and this is an academic year internship for college students. And usually what we do is we get about five or six interns from the different campuses in the triangle. So that includes Durham, Chapel Hill, and Raleigh, and so Duke University, Chapel Hill-UNC, NC State. We get interns from there and they work with our programs with our individual programs. I get one student who works with me and with the Levante Leadership Institute. And pretty much they accompany me, they help me create campus visits, they do their own workshops that we coordinate. We invite the parents to the monthly meetings. We have monthly meetings with the students. And we have a session for students. And then we have a session for parents. Sometimes they're combined. But then in one of the sessions, my intern, my solidaridad intern might be talking to the students. And then I may be talking to the parents. We also have guests that come to our meetings. A lot of times the intern is the one who coordinates, who comes to our meetings, who gets to talk to our parents. We provide a lot of services to our parents. One of the parents in our youth group, they were affected by scam calls who actually, you know, call and take your money away. So one of our families was affected by that. So we invited the Better Business Bureau to talk to them about, you know, what are some of the current scams going on? How do you react to those, you know, how do you report those calls, and things like that. We also talk about healthy eating habits. Some of the parents talk about - - So we asked the parents, what do you want to learn about? Some of them say immigration. Can you bring in a lawyer to talk to us? Can you can talk about healthy eating habits? So, we pretty much work with the youth and with the parents together. We don't come with approach, like, hey, this is what we're going to do. We actually talk to them. What are the needs that the community has? And so, pretty much, my solidaridad intern is pretty much-- like I say that she's like my co-director-- because, pretty much, that's what we do. And so, we have the Into the Fields internship, we have the fellowship, we have the solidaridad internship, and then we also have the From the Ground Up, which is a lot of the advocating, the lobbying, the take action part of SAF. Yes.
SB: Wow. So, [00:21:02] for the guests that come and talk to the parents and the students, that's always kind of a directive from the people? You ask them what they want to hear about, and then you find guests to come in?
VCG: Yes, so we usually ask the parents like when I started working with SAF, I asked them, so, what are some of the needs? What are some of the things that are going on? I'm new to the program, so just let me know what's going on. And a lot of times they're like, hey, like we like to hear about immigration stuff because a lot of our parents are undocumented. And so they're like from mixed status families. So, I’m not going to say all of them, but they're from mixed status families. So, that's one of the biggest things they want to learn about is, you know, and then also education. How do we get our students to go on? What are some of the resources? How can you lead us throughout the way because a lot of times they say that their students don't share that with them like they did. The students might learn about FAFSA, but they don't go home and tell them, like, oh, I did the FAFSA. This is what it is. And a lot of times, the parents say, like what we always say it's like, okay, m’hijo, m’hija, we support you, but they also want to learn. So, I go with them, and follow the whole process with them. Okay— This is what the FAFSA looks like. This is what you need to do. This is what they're going to ask you. If you go through the verification process on the FAFSA, don't get scared. It's normal. They're going to probably ask you to get a transcript, a tax transcript, from the IRS. That's completely normal. I can help you with that, too. So, pretty much, it's like a community approach.
SB: Okay, great. And so [00:22:30] Student Action with Farmworkers hosts a National Farmworker Awareness Week, which occurs at the end of March. Can you tell me a little bit about that week?
VCG: Yes, so I got the honor to work with SAF and they're the ones who coordinate this National Farmworker Awareness Week. Because before I started working with SAF, I used to work at the University of Idaho and the camp program there, the College Assistance Migrant Program, they used to host National Farmworker Awareness Week events. We would go all out. We would have a speaker come in and talk to the community about farmworker issues. Sometimes it would be a local speaker, like, somebody that works with farmworkers or somebody that came from a farmworker background. Now they're doing something else, like one time we brought in a local artist who actually came, and he's a very popular artist in the state of Idaho. And he actually worked in the fields with my parents, and his family worked in the fields with my parents, so that connection, you know, it was really nice to reconnect with him. And we did a paint night with him and we decided that not a lot of our students are . . . cómo se dice? . . . they're not used to being around art. And so this was a good reintroduction to, like, hey! You know, let’s talk about art. Now let's do a little painting. And so it was really, really successful. We had over 100 students that signed up. And we gave priority to students who came from a farmworker background first and then we opened it up to the community. And so it was really awesome. And so that one time we had him, and then another time we brought in Dolores Huerta, who's a very popular activist. She is the co-founder of The UFW and now she works with her own foundation, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and so we brought her in as a speaker. And then we also had people from the UFW come and talk about immigration issues. So that was one thing that we did. We also did a Theater from the Field. So we did like a teatro campesino. So we, the students, you know, they reenacted a theater performance by Luis Valdés. And so it was interesting because they got to talk about the issues and a lot of people look forward to the theater performance. We also do a long sleeve shirt drive in which we asked the community to provide long sleeve shirts and then we donated them to the farmworker organization in Idaho. And then we also did a blood drive in honor of Sochez Chávez. And so we did a blood drive. And we also did a Voces del campo, Voices from the Fields. This is where we asked the community and people from the farmworker community to share a piece that they want us to share with the world with the community about farm work, you know, an experience working in the fields. Some of those were positive, some of those were not so positive. Some of those talked about discrimination, talked about sexual assault, talked about many things that happened, you know, in agricultural work. And so we kind of took that time so that they could share their voice and a lot of times the students would share their stories from their parents. So they’d ask their parents if they wanted to share something with them and the students would write it. And it was awesome because they got to at least - - get it out. But yeah, those are some of the things that we did. We also had entertainment. So we had a grupo come in, a musical group come in and perform, to end the week. Those are some of the things, and I think that the main goal is to raise awareness, you know, about farmworker issues so SAF does a really good job with their National Farmworker Awareness Week, because now that I'm working with SAF, I see how many campuses they reach, how many campuses we reach, and how many people are invested in, and I guess, in a way, taking farmworkers out of the shadows, because we as a society, we put farmworkers in the shadows, and so a lot of people who came to some of the events, they're like, “Oh, I never knew that farmworkers lived in housing such as that! I didn't know that farmworkers didn't have AC in their headquarters,” things like that, living quarters, sorry. And so a lot of people learn, you know, it's a way to raise awareness and also a way for people who come from the farmworker community to share their story if they feel comfortable.
SB: Thank you. Yeah. [00:26:54] What are the biggest challenges of this kind of work?
VCG: I think some of the biggest challenges is, you know, I talked earlier about Latino farmworkers, how society, we push them to the shadows. And that's, you know, driving through North Carolina, through some of the highways, some of the freeways, there's a lot of trees, as you know. And so when I was working with legal aid, you would just make a right turn and behind the trees there was this whole farmworker housing that people don't even know that behind those trees, there's farmworkers there who harvests the food that we eat every day. And so I think that one of the biggest challenges is trying to bring the farmworkers out of the shadows. But also, you know, a lot of organizations come in with, or a lot people and a lot of nonprofits come in with the approach of, like, I want to be the voice for farmworkers. But we need to share the mic. I heard this TED Talk from Mónica Ramírez. She's an awesome, awesome activist, farmworker activist and lawyer. She talked about sharing the mic, and I was like, that's what we need to do more as a society. I feel like at SAF we do a really great job with, you know, sharing the mic with our farmworkers, so any time that we talk about an event we always talk about - Can we get some youth to talk? Can we get a farmworker, if they feel comfortable to share their story? This week I had a reporter who called me and I asked one of our farmworker youth parents if they wanted to share their story with them. And she said yeah. And so I was like, okay. You can decide to do it anonymous, or you can share your first name. It's up to you. And so, you know, it's really important that we continue to share the mic and not just go out there with the “we need to change the law because we don't think farmworkers should live that way.” But we always need to go with the approach of: have we asked them what they want? Have we asked them if they want us to help them? You know, things like that. So, or empowered them, you know, I don't like to use the word help. Because I feel like we need to work alongside farmworkers. Like I said again, our name is Student Action with Farmworkers. So we need to continue that philosophy, that vision, that together we can create social change, but uplifting their voices is what we need to do.
SB: So, [00:29:05] the whole world has recently been thrown into wild circumstances with the spread of Covid-19 and regulations regarding social distancing. How is this affecting SAF?
VCG: Well, first of all, we all started working from home. I think that as soon as we started hearing, “we should probably not be working, or we should be working remotely,” our executive director was really good about - - Okay, we need to need to go home. We need to cancel all of our in-person meetings or events. And so we did that and I was a little sad because I had a lot planned for this spring with the students. We had college visits, we had in-person meetings, we had presentations from different organizations who provide services to families who come from a farmworker background, and so everything shifted from in-person to Zoom. So I had, I had a couple Zoom calls with my students and at first they were confused. And they were like, some of them were excited about Zoom and I was like, just wait till I call you almost every week [Laughter] and then you'll get, you know . . . No, but they adjusted pretty good through Zoom. Ever since this happened I've been calling my families on a weekly basis to see how they're doing, if they have access to food, if they have access to water. If they have access to paying the rent, things like that. And so every week, usually every Friday, I call the parents and talk to them. How they're doing, talk to the students about: how is your transition going on from going to school to now going through on online classes and stuff like that? And so, my intern, my solidaridad intern, Faviola, she's been talking to the students about that transition. And I talked to the youth. But I also talk more to the parents about, you know, have you lost your job, what do you need? I’ve been connecting them to food pantries, which all of our parents have gone to, to a food pantry. I've been connecting them to, I should say most of our parents, not all of them, but most of them have gone to a food pantry that I connected them to. I actually volunteer there, too, so I actually get to see them when I go and volunteer at a food pantry and then I also connected them to the school districts who have hot meals every day. You know, they know, but I'm trying to make sure that they, you know, did you know that you could go to school district? This is how you go: You just wait on the curve, they come to you, they provide the food and stuff. So I know some of our parents have benefited from that. And then some of our students didn't have access to a desktop or a laptop. I knew that we had some in our office that we didn't use. And so this was the best time to, you know, hand it to - - it was five students that got a desktop or a laptop from us. All of our students have, through the program, through the Levante Leadership Institute Program, all of our students have an iPad or a tablet. And they also have a hotspot that we at SAF, we pay for. So, this was really helpful because now that we go through like this online phase, I know that I can always reach them because they have a way to communicate with me. So, yeah, that's one of the things that I'm very thankful for — that I get to still be in communication with other farmworkers and with our community. A lot of them are still working, you know, which it can be a good thing, but also it can be a bad thing because I always ask them about how are they, how's your employer taking precautions? And so some of them say yes, we're doing a good job. Other say like, oh, they don't even tell us about it. And so I've been keeping up with them, and all of them are employed as of right now. Which is a good thing because they still have some sort of they have some income coming in, but then I'm also worried about Covid-19 and if they're going to be exposed to it, which I —hopefully, hopefully, no— they’re not exposed. [Interruption] And then I talked to some of the youth and have some youth who actually work full time right now. So, since they shifted to online, they actually go and work full time. And some of them say that their employers given time off to go online to the class session. And then they come back and work. And so I talked to the students about Covid-19 and how are they feeling and one of them said, like, well, people tell us that we shouldn't be working, but we need to work, we need to provide for our families. That's not a question. Then I understand that two hours. I know I'm not telling you not to work. I'm just telling you, like, be careful. Take precautions. If you don't need to leave your house, don't leave. Think about your families, if they're sick, you know, like we can we can slow this down, this whole Covid-19 from spreading. And so, but yeah, some of our students are like, if we don't work, there's no income for our families.
SB: So, [00:33:41] when you call and check in on them every week, what is your sense of how the transition is going for the parents and the students, or is the transition going differently for each of them?
VCG: I think the transition is going different for each of them. I have some parents who have students who are seniors in high school. And so they're not that concerned because - - or students actually have some online classes, so they easily adjusted to it. But then I have some parents who their students that have never had an online class. Excuse me, and they feel like their students are stressing or they take a little bit longer to understand. And so, you know, that's why I also talk to the youth, or our intern talks to the youth to see how they're handling it. And so I feel like it's different for some parents. Some of them are worried that their students say that they don't have any homework, which I strongly don't believe. And so I follow up with the students. And I'm like, Okay. Have you checked your email, you know, have you checked your Google classroom? Do you want me to call your teachers? Because I can call your teachers or email them and so like, you know, that's how I work with them, you know, we're a little bit more like a - - we're a program that's a little bit more intrusive. And I think that's the best way to describe it, because we’re actually there and, talking to the families, talking to the youth. You know, the parents are really comfortable sharing what's going on. The students, too. And so we try to find services for them. Some of our students have mentioned that they need mental health support or advocates to talk to them. And so we have made that connection with those folks, too. So it's I think it's been different. For some families say that we're good, nothing's going on too bad. The students are understanding their homework, but some of the families are like, you know, we need support in this area, or that area. So it's a little bit mixed.
SB: [00:35:30] When you talk to the students who have gone to a full time work schedule while they're also doing online classes, what are they saying about that? Do they feel like they're able to keep up with work and school, or have they given any feedback about that?
VCG: Well, I spoke to all of my seniors and they're the ones who are mostly working either full time or part time. And so some of them have said that it’s good. You know, I'm used to it, you know. And then there's a few who are struggling, especially with math. And that's, I think, one of the areas that our students who come from a Latino background or a farmworker background, that's one of the areas that they struggle with the most that I have seen personally working with farmworker youth. So I think I just let them know that their homework is first, that making sure that they can readjust their work schedule a little bit more. If it's affecting their schoolwork, then I strongly encourage them to do so, but I feel like a lot of — some of them— are struggling a little bit more with, especially with math.
SB: [00:36:35] You mentioned that you've directed your families to food pantries. What are some other resources that might be available to farmworkers during this time that would be helpful?
VCG: I think one of the things that yes, we directed them to food pantries, or food banks, or their school district for hot meals every day. I think, like I mentioned before, some of our youth parents are undocumented - - one or both. And so they don't benefit from all this federal aid that's going out to a lot of people, a lot of folks. And so one of the things that we've been trying to look for is like some financial support, you know. I think El Centro Hispano provides that financial support to families who are in need. And so, connecting them to those financial resources. Because one thing is telling them, giving them information about Covid-19, which I have, but I think our families, what they really need is, what are some of the resources, what are some of the direct resources that are going to benefit us right now. And so that's why I found the food pantry, which is through the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry and done and see. They're awesome to work with. I volunteer with them all the time, I work with them all the time. That's where we actually have our youth meetings when I go and visit because I go and have in-person meetings with them— well, before this whole thing happened. And we have in-person meetings at the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry. And so, I think just more resources where they can actually get some access to food. Food that is culturally appropriate, you know, for the families - - food that they will eat, and also which the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry does a really good job with that. And then also, resources, and I know we're trying to see if there's any financial resources that we can provide at SAF in the future, for our farmworker community.
SB: [00:38:28] You mentioned financial and access to food are two challenges that farmworkers are facing during this time of Covid-19. Are there any other challenges that you have seen at the forefront during this time?
VCG: I think of maybe not specifically to Covid-19 but I feel like a lot of times, you know, with immigration reform. That's another thing that our families always talk about, you know, they hear from the news. Is it true that they're trying to pass legislation that would benefit people who come from farmworker backgrounds? I have to come back and talked to lawyers and then give them the good information. So I think a lot of times it's like, with immigration, I think reform. I think a lot of families are trying to see, you know, is if there's any immigration or relief or anything that would support them, at this time. And so hopefully I think within the next couple months, you know, people, as they see farmworkers essential, they start seeing that yes, of course, farmworkers have always been essential in our communities in our country. Without them, there's no food in our stores, on our tables. But I feel like, hopefully, you know, with this whole thing, it helps Americans see that, you know, we need to provide immigration relief or an immigration reform for not just farmworkers but everyone who is on the same boat. But I think with farmworkers, we really continue to oppress them, you know, so yes.
SB: [00:40:06] So how can people, even in this time of maintaining social distance, get involved and help some of these efforts initiated by SAF?
VCG: So one of the things that SAF is doing right now is that we are a part of this coalition called the Farmworker Advocacy Network, and this is a group of farmworker services organizations, so they provide direct services or they advocate for farmworkers. So, for example, we have the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry on there. We have Legal Aid Farmworker Unit on there. We have the Farmworkers Project, Student Action with Farmworkers, Toxic Free NC, so many, many of the different nonprofits that provided advocacy or direct services to farmworkers. So FAN, they’re actually doing a petition, asking Governor Cooper to actually not forget about foreign workers, you know, to protect farmworkers. And so we came up with this petition that we have, we're asking folks to sign. So that's one way to give back or to take action. Right now, we also sent a letter to Governor Cooper and we did get a response, or we're in the middle of getting a response, from them. But I think the petition is going to help amplify, you know, what are we asking. And some of the things that we're asking is making sure that farmworkers have access to health care, making sure that the their employers are providing good information or providing protection, but they're taking precaution, you know, pretty much what we're asking for everyone that farmworkers actually are getting the same, you know, we know that most of the time, that's not the case. And so, that's one of the ways to send one of the petitions. We actually have signed onto other petitions from the UFW, from other organizations in Florida. For example, the McCauly Coalition of Farmworkers and so, we're pretty much just - - one way to take action is to sign on to petitions. And donate, you know, donate to the different organizations that are providing direct services. You can donate to SAF, you can donate to the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry. They need money for their food pantry. Because, yes, the food bank delivers food, but last time they didn't have any food, as you know, we're probably running out of food and the food banks. So we need money to directly buy food. You know, last time when I volunteered with them, we went to Walmart and bought all of their potatoes, all of their oil, all of their tortillas, all of their - - what else did we, why we bought a lot of stuff. And so this is the food that our local community will actually, you know, that's culturally appropriate that they will eat. And so I think providing financial resources, either to people that would provide food for farmworkers, or people that would provide direct funds to farmworkers to pay rent. That’s what our community is worried about. So we don't have a job - - how do we pay for rent? How do we buy food? How do we pay the bills? So I think those are some of the - - two ways - - that you know the community can actually, you know, benefit. And actually, sending a letter or sending an email to your representative, you know, asking them to step it up. It's not just the governor, you know, they have the power to step it up and provide protections for farmworkers. So, just a simple email: like, hey, I live in your district. Please don't forget to support farmworkers or to keep farmworkers in mind when talking about legislation. We're talking about financial support because we're all in the same boat, and farmworkers are the ones that are on the, you know, I guess you can see on a worse boat. Yeah.
SB: Well, thank you so much for all of all of this information and resources. [00:43:45] Those are the questions I have - - is there anything, additionally, that you would like to share?
VCG: I think it's just when talking about farmworkers, we need to, of course, uplift their voices but you can also do your, your little- - you can support by sharing, just talking about it, you can go to our page, our website, and there's a lot of educational resources on there. If you go to the Farmworker Advocacy Network website, there's a lot of organizations. Once this is over, or you can also reach out to them right now. If you feel like you want to reach out to Toxic Free NC and be like: Hey, how can we support right now? They have a lot of things that you could do if you reach out to the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry. How can we provide support? They'll let you know how. So making sure that you go out of your way, out of your personal life, out of your, you know, quarantine life and actually do some research, you know, and then share it with your family with your friends. Be like: Hey, I learned about this new organization. Can you donate with me? Let's donate twenty dollars to them. Let’s donate one hundred dollars to them, or let's sign on this sign on to this petition, you know, let's email our congressperson right now and asked them to keep farmworkers in mind when coming up with new legislation. I feel like just reaching out, learning, and sharing, sharing the, I guess in a way, sharing the knowledge that you learned from all of these folks that are doing awesome work. It's not just SAF. It's all of these other statewide organizations that are doing a lot, risking their lives, like the speaker Episcopal Farmworker Ministry, all of their staff is pretty much in the way, you can say risking their lives, you know, but we do it because we care. We care about the community. Last time we did the food pantry, we had a line of about - - over two miles. And so we had people and you know, that's good. But at the same time we're thinking like, whoa, like this is really, you know, affecting our community. You know if this is how they rely to get food on their tables, then we're doing something wrong. You know, we're doing something wrong, as a society, we're doing something wrong as a state. We're doing something wrong as a nation. Because those people that provide, that harvest the food— they don't have any food on their tables left when it comes to harsh or difficult times. So I guess just share the knowledge.
SB: Victor, thank you so much for taking time today to share your knowledge and experiences with us. I really appreciate it.
VCG: No, No. Thank you, Sarah, for willing to talk to us and, you know, you are part of the people that are actually going to help us reach more people. And the reason why I accepted to do this interview was because I know that other people will hear this. And that this might be the first time that they hear about farmworkers that they hear about, you know, our community or nonprofits that are actually doing something, you know, for community.
SB: Great. Well, thank you again, and stay safe.
VCG: Thank you, you too. Bye-bye.
SB: Bye. [00:46:35] END OF INTERVIEW Transcriber: Sarah Blanton Interview Date: April 17, 2020