During the Thomas Fire in 2017, Eulalia Mendoza was working in strawberry fields in Ventura County, California.
As smoke and ash drifted into the area, she breathed it in — even after the fire was out.”
“There was still ash in the field and it would still be coming into our eyes or we would still be spitting it out,” she says.
Mendoza spoke through a translator, Ariadne Villegas of the Public Health Institute. The group is working with the Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project and others to protect farmworkers’ health.
Mendoza says many Indigenous workers from Mexico do not speak English, so they miss public health warnings.
To help, Ventura County now offers alerts in English, Spanish, and two Indigenous languages.
When the air quality is poor, people who are signed up can receive an audio message in Zapoteco or Mixteco.
Mendoza speaks Mixteco, so she’s been going to laundromats and other places to help people register. Some are hesitant.
“People are not trusting of giving their phone to agencies or strangers,” she says. “And they always ask, ‘I don’t know you, why do you want my information?’”
So she says challenges remain. But it’s an important step toward protecting workers from wildfire smoke.
Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media