New Role

Mariza Martinez started working in the fields in Monterey County when she was 16 years old. She is now studying to get her GED and finishing her high school education.

Mariza Martinez, a farmworker and mother of five, was already busy. Now she is up to a new challenge: being a community health worker for Building Healthy Communities and helping inform the farmworker community in Monterey County about resources available during the pandemic.

Martinez is 33 and has spent more than half her life working in the fields picking produce. She arrived in Castroville when she was 15. Instead of going to school and finishing her education, she had to work to support herself. Now, she’s hopeful about going back to school. When DACA applications for first-time applicants were reinstated back in December 2020, she decided to give it a try, and is gathering documents for her application. She spoke to the Weekly in Spanish about her journey.

Weekly: What motivated you to change jobs and become a community health worker?

Martinez: The season ends in November, and I was unemployed. It was a challenge for me to do this job because I don’t know how to use a computer very well and I don’t speak English. I do not have documents to be here. I wasn’t used to doing another type of job besides working in the field.

They told us it was going to be for five months. I was thinking when I’m done, I will return to picking strawberries. If Covid does not stop and they want me to stay, I will.

What’s something rewarding about your community health outreach work?

I submitted emergency rental applications for people who had Covid. There were seven families. There was a person who was on dialysis, an elderly couple, a farmworker family – the whole family got Covid and they weren’t working, they were recovering. It was $7,000, because there were seven families. I felt good helping people who really needed it.

What do you like most about working in the fields?

We are outdoors, in groups and talking; we have fun. We don’t get stressed, but we do get tired. Every day we feel like family, we are in a group of 20 or 30, and we are competing to find out who can [harvest] more. It’s a job where people motivate each other. I don’t like being locked up. In the field, in the morning it is cold but the beautiful sun comes out, and the birds. That’s what I like about the fields.

Agricultural workers are defined as unskilled labor, but there are products, such as strawberries, that require precise skills to harvest without damaging the crop. Can you share your technique?

All fruit is delicate, but the strawberry is the most delicate. You have to have speed in your hands, but at the same time, do it softly. Don’t press it. Don’t pull it. Take the strawberry and give it a little spin. You have to be quick; otherwise you will never make a box.

It is not easy. If it were easy, everyone would work there.

What are your future goals?

I want to learn English. In the field, they don’t ask you to speak English. They don’t ask you for anything.

Working in the fields is nice, but I don’t want to stay there. My dad fell in the field and he underwent back surgery. I want to study and learn English to find a job in a store where I don’t have to force my body so much, because I don’t want to end up like that.

You come from a family of farmers in Mexico, and you had a difficult upbringing. What future would you like for your children?

I want them to study, so they don’t suffer what I suffered: hunger, ignorance. I hope that in the future my children will become someone, because they have everything to succeed. I don’t want to see them like me, working in the fields or that they have no education. We are in a country where if people aren’t someone, it’s because they didn’t want to – especially those who were born here, and my children are all citizens.

There is a lot of federal policy conversation about extending more opportunities to immigrants. What do you think of the immigration reform that President Joe Biden is proposing?

He is interested in helping us get out of the darkness. We are the ones who are feeding everyone. This president has good intentions and I have faith that what he is saying is going to get done. I think that he is grateful and he wants to thank us for the work we are doing in these difficult times.

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