Sarait Martinez and Seth Holmes think coronavirus means we’ll finally appreciate our farmworkers

Sarait Martinez and Seth Holmes think coronavirus means we’ll finally appreciate our farmworkers
Image: Courtesy Sarait Martinez & Seth Holmes
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It took a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders for 1.5 billion people worldwide, but something is finally occurring to us: The future we thought we expected may not be the one we get.

We know that things will change; how they’ll change is a mystery. To envision a future altered by coronavirus, Quartz asked dozens of experts for their best predictions on how the world will be different in five years.

Below is an answer from Sarait Martinez and Seth Holmes. Indigenous Zapotec organizer Sarait Martinez is the chair of the board of the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities. Seth Holmes is a physician and a cultural and medical anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley; he’s written a book about migrant farmworkers in the US. The two work together on issues of indigenous farmworker.

After the country’s experiences with the novel coronavirus pandemic, the status and treatment of farmworkers will shift dramatically.

Before and throughout the pandemic, farmworkers have been on the front lines risking their lives to perform essential work for all of us and our families to survive. They have provided food for other essential workers, including frontline doctors and nurses, postal and delivery workers, and more. They fed those who had to stay home, sheltering in place. And they supplied necessary nutrition for those recovering from Covid-19 in hospitals, nursing homes, and at home. After the powerful ways farmworkers safeguarded health and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic, their full rights as workers and as humans will be respected.

After the crises of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the country as a whole will begin necessary personal, interpersonal, institutional, and systemic work to undo generations of racism and xenophobia. Society will learn to treat farmworkers with gratitude and dignity. Instead of explicit exclusion, farmworkers and their families will receive top-notch health coverage, free education, and other services and programs that have been provided to others for many years. Instead of being limited to overcrowded housing and unable to afford the food they harvest, farmworkers will receive living wages befitting their life-sustaining work. They will be able to live and eat well.

Dangerous working conditions, exposure to pesticides and contaminated air and water, and long hours of harmful work without breaks will be outlawed by policies designed to protect the health and wellbeing of farmworkers as they have protected our and our families’ health for generations. Fear of family separation, inhuman detention, and deportation will be replaced with security, drivers’ licenses, documentation, and a sense of peace. Subtle forms of social exclusion will be replaced with multilingual education programs and medical interpretation systems including Spanish, Haitian Creole, and dozens of indigenous languages.

As our society looks anxiously and hopefully toward an end to the coronavirus pandemic, we are all responsible to ensure that farmworkers—and all human beings regardless of their position in society—experience the respect, dignity, social inclusion, and rights deserved by everyone.

To read more New Normal answers, click here.