WASCO, Calif. (KERO) — From the fields in Sonoma to the Coachella valley and now here in Kern County, Campesinas, or farm working women, help feed the nation.
Many of them having left their homes behind to do a back breaking job, most of these women are natural leaders, which is why the organization, 'Lideres Campesinas' says its goal is to help them recognize their power.
And that is what happened for farmworker, Veronica Perez.
Cars honked and people held up signs at the first protest Perez organized, when COVID-19 regulations were being broken at the pistachio farm she was working on.
She looks prideful as she explains how the protest led to more precautions like social distancing and paying back owed wages.
At first she didn’t even know if anyone would join her, but was pleasantly surprised to see the turnout.
Although she took some heat from her bosses and some other employees, it emboldened her to keep fighting.
She says that's when she found a strength she did not know existed as she talks about that protest and her work in the past decade with, the organization, Lideres Campesinas
Now she is sought out by community members to speak out on similar issues, and this year became a board member representing Northern Kern County for the organization.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Perez met us by some almond orchirds, as she used to work for an almond company when she first needed the organization.
In 2011, she says a work-related injury started causing her some issues at her job like losing hours and labor retaliation
Labor retaliation. A term that slips so easily out her mouth now, but sounded foreign back then.
She recalls how Lideres Campesinas taught her about labor laws and helped her at work. Adding that’s when she learned knowledge is power.
Perez talks about how says that’s the issue, people just not knowing they have rights, until someone comes around to tell them.
To her, that is the beauty of the organization, building up women like her to be the voices of these farmworker communities that often don’t know they have rights or are afraid to speak up due to being undocumented.
And that’s what the founder of the organization, Mily Treviño-Sauceda says its all about.
"We have learned to not have the voice and provide the voice to others," said Treviño-Sauceda, Executive Director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas
Adding part of the organization is making sure farmworker women know they do not have limits.
"Veronica is a testament of the thousands of women that have been participating," says Treviño-Sauceda
A big part of their work now is also around helping farmworker women who are sexually assaulted in the fields.
The USDA says only 26% of farm laborers are women. But Perez says work harassment and domestic violence is a big issue, pointing again, at victims not knowing their rights or being afraid to speak up
Perez shows us pamphlets and explains they have programs in the works to go talk to farm worker women about speaking out against this issue.
Although, the organization can’t provide any legal help; Lideres Campesinas can serve as a bridge and connect the women with the organizations and domestic violence shelters.
Perez adding women need to look out for one another.
And as we celebrate Women’s History Month, she shares one of her inspirations has been Sauceda for teaching her about her rights and fighting hard for so many farmworker women.
Something Treviño-Sauceda herself echoed,
"We are the ones that giving ourselves the visibility, we have been marginalized, exploited, gone through so much, but that has not stopped us," said Treviño-Sauceda
Lideres Campesinas also has leadership institute, technical assistance and outreach efforts to continue growing the network of women farmworkers.
And this chapter is having a Women’s History celebration on March 8th to celebrate women in this community.