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Ventura County Wildfire Alerts Offered in Indigenous Languages to Protect Farmworkers

  • Yale Climate Connections
field of corn with the sun setting in the background

“Many Indigenous workers from Mexico don’t speak English, so they miss public health warnings.

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

Click on the link below to read and listen to the full story.

Farmworkers in a field, working through wildfire smoke and smog

Learn More: Ventura County's Wildfire Alert System

Wildfire smoke and climate change are growing threats to farmworkers, who must often continue to work in the fields during wildfires and extreme heat events. In September 2022, PHI's Achieving Resilient Communities (ARC) partnered with the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), Líderes Campesinas and Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) to launch new updates to the county's emergency alert system, which will now include audio messages in Mixteco and Zapoteco that would notify farmworkers when air quality reaches unhealthy levels due to wildfire smoke.

"For farmworkers, it's a very big impact, since the majority of them don't even know that they can ask for N-95 masks to protect themselves against the smoke and fires, out of fear that they would get fired from their job or because they won't be offered work next harvest season or called to return," says Eulalia Mendoza, farmworker and MICOP community advocate.

Read the PHI Press Release & Watch Videos

Originally published by Yale Climate Connections

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Communities across the U.S. and around the world are grappling with dangerous wildfires and extreme heat. These threats disrupt and uproot communities and pose serious risks to environmental and community health—from rising temperatures, unhealthy air pollutants, water contamination and more. Find PHI tools, resources and examples to help communities take action and promote climate safety, equity and resiliency.

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