At the start of the pandemic, a farm laborer’s days in the fields continued as usual. Then she became a community health worker, using her trilingual language skills to help immunize more people. | Cover collections
FOR MARCIANA LAZARO, WORK DURING COVID WAS A LOT LIKE WORK AT ANY OTHER TIME. During harvest season, she would start her days at 3 a.m. to make lunch and get ready for her day, then wait for a ride (she can’t drive) and get to an eight-hour shift in the streets. fields, usually six days a day. week. She adds that it was difficult to maintain six feet of distance between workers except during lunch.
She is not surprised that information about Covid-19 and resources may have been slower to penetrate the farm worker community, as often farm workers are too tired or too focused on day-to-day survival to tap into a additional awareness.
But starting in January, Lazaro left the fields and became an outreach worker herself, employed as a community health worker on the Monterey County VIDA project, designed to help vulnerable residents navigate resources. of Covid-19 such as testing, paid sick leave and, most recently, vaccines. One recent afternoon, she and two fellow farmers sat at a table in Greenfield handing out flyers about local programs.
Lazaro, a small woman with a shy smile, says promoting vaccinations is one of her main topics of conversation these days. âI encourage them to get vaccinated because there are a lot of them who don’t want to be vaccinated,â she says. Some cite fears of developing more serious illness from the vaccine (unfounded fears, which Lazaro discusses with them) or of developing flu-like symptoms and missing work.
Lazaro tells them they can get additional sick leave if they show up for a Covid-19 vaccine appointment or show symptoms after receiving the vaccine – all regardless of immigration status . âI tell them not to be afraid because even if we don’t have papers, we have rights,â she says.
Lazaro is also an immigrant. She moved with her husband from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Greenfield in 2003 in search of a better life. Back in their hometown, they barely earned enough money to eat. They have three sons – Ulises, 16, Egu, 11, and Santiago Jr., 2. His eldest son is deaf and Lazaro has learned sign language to communicate with him.
It is his third language, in addition to his native Mixtec and Spanish. âIt’s easier to talk to my fellow citizens who speak Mixtec,â she said.
While her goal in Project VIDA is to communicate with the thousands of native Mexican residents of Monterey County, some of whom do not speak Spanish or speak Spanish as a second language, her fluency in sign language has also been helpful. Once, while in Mee Memorial Hospital for a Johnson & Johnson vaccination clinic, a deaf couple showed up hoping to receive their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. She motioned to them to let them know that they were in the wrong clinic and sent them to the right place.
Audelia Garcia Cervantes, chair of the board of directors of Lideres Campesinas, says having native language speakers like Lazaro in their organization and in county programs helps them reach more people among the farm worker community. . âThey help us build trust,â says Cervantes. “It’s an achievement to have it [Lazaro] in our group.