“Welcome to listen to the Indígena 94.1 FM radio,” said a Spanish-speaking voice from the radio station. After a while, he heard another voice, speaking in Mixteco (one of several indigenous languages in southern Mexico).
Cervantes Alvarado, 40, said in Spanish: “I was ashamed of speaking about Mixteco.” “Whenever I listen to the radio, I feel proud of who I am. And don’t want my child to forget this.”
Radio Indígena was established in 2014 as an affiliate of MICOP, aiming to provide indigenous Mexican farmers with information on labor rights and health programs in their native language. It started playing streaming programs online and expanded to FM radio, iOS and Android apps, and phone numbers.
Currently, the station broadcasts 40 hours of original programming in Spanish and the indigenous languages of Mixteco, Zapoteco and Purépecha. They focus on various topics, including immigrant rights, prevention of domestic violence and indigenous history. Genevieve Flores-Haro, MICOP’s deputy director, estimates that approximately 3,000 people listen to the station every day.
Producer Bernardino Almazán, who has been working in coriander picking in the past, said that one of the biggest challenges in the early stages of the pandemic was explaining what Covid-19 was. He said that the history of the Mixteco language can be traced back to at least 2000 and does not include modern medical terms.
Almazan said: “We have to find other ways to talk about this virus, give examples of similar diseases, and explain the symptoms.”
Since then, the radio station has issued a series of Covid-19 public service announcements covering health agreements, school closures, price testing and mental health.
“We don’t recommend that they don’t follow the gossip on social media, and people who may not have accurate information,” said Francisco Didier, the coordinator of the TV station and co-host of Almazan Ulloa) in Spanish. “Our responsibility is to report responsibly.”
MICOP Executive Director Arcenio López stated that Radio Indígena is essential for introducing Covid-19 to the indigenous communities in Ventura County.
In addition to running radio stations, MICOP also mainly builds connections with the community through door-to-door interaction. This is better than distributing brochures, because many people working on California farms come from rural areas in Mexico, and Spanish illiteracy rates are high.
Lopez said: “The ideal situation is that everyone learns English, but the reality is that some people will never learn English, and some people have just arrived in this country.” “Everyone should get important information in their native language. It is a basic human right.”
Advocates say migrant workers are at higher risk of Covid-19
Many of the listeners of Radio Indiana are Latinos and farm workers. These two groups are most affected by the coronavirus outbreak in multiple states.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that farm workers are at particular risk of infection due to close contact with each other in the field, shared housing or transportation, and limited access to clean water.
The county says 496 farm workers have tested positive for the virus.
MICOP executive director López said that during the pandemic, the work of migrant workers has decreased significantly. Those who have jobs are struggling because they cannot use hand washing facilities and have to be in close contact with large numbers of people. He said many hired people feel they have no choice.
Lopez said that some people sleep in the car to avoid exposing their family members, while others are afraid to tell their employers that they have Covid-19 because they don’t want to lose their jobs.
Lopez said: “If you talk to a farm worker, many people will tell you that they have a job because they have a salary, so they are grateful.”
In the past two weeks, advocacy groups have been calling on the committee to set priorities and guidelines for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine to give priority to farm workers.