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Do you know how to protect yourself against pesticides and COVID-19?

This Friday at “La Fiesta de los Morralitos” (Celebration of Satchels), you and your loved ones can learn in a fun and useful way for the whole community. We have spoken with three organizers of this event, Elizabeth Cordero, of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, and Emma Kreyche and Paola Betchart of the Worker Justice Center of New York. They explained to us what the La Fiesta de los Morralitos is, how you can participate, what we should know about pesticides in this time of COVID-19, and how we can protect ourselves and our families even beyond the celebration. 

 

La Fiesta de los Morralitos: Putting Art in Action

 

This Friday, July 31, is the celebration of La Fiesta de los Morralitos, a virtual artistic gathering in which farm and agricultural workers express what they experience and feel working in the fields, in the context of pesticides and the COVID-19 pandemic. This celebration has its roots in an initiative by Alianza Nacional de Campesinas member organization Líderes Campesinas, which has decorated morralitos (satchels) as a symbol to raise consciousness about pesticides since 2012.

The activity facilitates the communication of important information and messages in the form of art. According to Emma, the celebration involves “decorating satchels y discussing how being exposed to pesticides affects health, and what are the ways to protect yourself against toxic chemicals that you encounter on the job.” Elizabeth reiterates: “It’s so important to talk about these pesticides. It’s necessary to express it with art because it’s a friendly way of expressing a serious problem.”

The event will be organized in conjunction by Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, el Centro de Justicia para Trabajadores and Workers’ Center of Central New York. Given that it will occur on Zoom, people from all over can participate. According to Elizabeth, it is important that non-farm workers also participate in the event to learn about the harmful effects of pesticides and COVID-19 on farmworkers’ health. 

How and Why Should I Participate? 

Elizabeth tells us that the celebration is really positive for the community because it offers the opportunity to understand the dangers of pesticides, and especially how they interact with the risks of COVID-19. She hopes that the event will raise awareness and resources that farmworkers receive, in addition to improving the health and safety of everyone else. 

Paola puts the issue in context, emphasizing that “communities of color are exposed to toxic chemicals at much higher levels than white people… toxic chemicals have been used as tools of suppression against communities of color since their creation, and they continue to contaminate our families that work in the fields risking their lives to feed the country.” She expressed that the hope of the organizers “is that they prohibit these pesticides and stop contaminating us.” 

La Fiesta de Morralitos is free and will take place on Friday, July 31st at 7pm (EST). To learn more and confirm your participation, visit the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/291502068732963

What Do You Need to Know About Pesticides in the Context of COVID in the Current Moment? 

Elizabeth points out that both pesticides and COVID-19 present invisible dangers that affect our respiratory system. Although we can’t see them, pesticides are in the air, and sometimes you can smell them. People who eat agricultural products run the risk of ingesting pesticides daily through our fruits and vegetables, even if we wash them. Worse still, farmworkers who work collecting fruit in the fields are always breathing the residuals of pesticides, which enter the respiratory airways and cause problems like allergies and asthma.  

Similarly, you can’t see the COVID-19 virus, but it enters through the respiratory airways. People affected by pesticides may be even more vulnerable to suffering the harmful effects of the virus.

According to Emma, “today, there is a lot of discussion about the risks of COVID-19 for essential workers, and for good reason. Farmworkers have always faced risks to their health and safety on the job, and many times there are not sufficient protection measures. Exposure to pesticides can cause various health problems like skin rashes, cancer, reproductive problems, and respiratory diseases. There is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but it’s evident that if someone already has a compromised respiratory condition, they are at high risk for serious complications if they become infected with COVID-19. For agricultural workers with previous exposure to pesticides, COVID-19 can be even more dangerous.” 

Elizabeth recommends to all farmworkers who have contact with fruits and vegetables that they take off their shoes and clothes before entering the house, because they can carry a mix of toxic chemicals and COVID. 

In Addition to Participating in the Celebration, What Actions Can We Take to Protect Ourselves and Our Loved Ones?

Elizabeth says that “despite the situation in the fields, not everyone recognizes that COVID is real.” She explains that a lot of false information is disseminated, such as saying that the virus “only attacks old people.” Because of this, she says, it is very important that everyone takes the situation seriously and adopts necessary protection measures, and that they familiarize themselves with the specific circumstances of farmworkers, who are always exposed to pesticides. Elizabeth emphasized the importance of putting in place necessary preventive measures to maintain health and safety, such as: using masks in public, maintaining social distance, clean tools, and surfaces regularly, and leaving shoes outside the house.

According to Emma, “the most important is to inform yourself about the recommended measures for protection against COVID-19 and pesticides. It is also important to inform yourself about your rights and what to do if your employer does not comply with the necessary precautions.” 

If you live in New York, you can contact the Worker Justice Center of New York at 1-800-724-7020 or the Centro de Trabajadores del Centro de Nueva York at  315-218-5708 with any question or concern about your rights at work.

To answer questions about your labor rights, you can contact Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. at 1-855-234-9699 (if you’re in the United States) or at 01-800-590-1773 (if you’re in Mexico).