Dozens of lowriders in Chevrolet Bel Airs and El Caminos and Plymouth convertibles led a car caravan from San Jose to Gilroy to deliver food, masks and other household goods to farmworkers in Gilroy on Saturday morning.
The caravan, joined by cars decorated with signs thanking agricultural workers, wove through orchards and fields growing corn, onions and Gilroy’s famed garlic. For the lowriders, part of a rich Latinx car culture, it was important to honor and support the heavily Latinx immigrant farmworkers.
“Going through the fields and being Chicano, being born and raised in California … we all come from the field one way or another,” said David Polanco, president of the United Lowrider Council of San Jose. “It’s just another generation. It’s humbling in a way.”
Darlene Tenes, who worked in event planning for her company, CasaQ, before the pandemic, organized the caravan, her third so far. She’d earlier planned drives to Salinas and to San Juan Bautista.
“It’s an extinct career, so I might as well use my skills for something good,” she said.
The event was organized with the San Jose Woman’s Club and the lowrider council, as well as Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, which brought volunteers to the parking lot of St. Mary’s Church in Gilroy where families could come by to pick up the donated goods.
Tenes said it’s critical to bring aid to farmworkers, who have been essential workers throughout the pandemic, because they are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Many live in crowded housing and are packed into buses on the way to and from fields. For their backbreaking work, Tenes said they’re often paid as little as $12,000 to $15,000 a year.
Recently, photos have gone viral online showing unharvested fruits and vegetables rotting in fields, Tenes said.
“It’s because farmworkers are getting sick,” she said. “Even though there’s tens of millions of people unemployed, they don’t want to work the fields.”
Although farmworkers are essential workers, Tenes said she had a hard time collecting donations from foundations and nonprofits set to help at-risk workers. Most turned her away, saying they didn’t consider the farmworkers who grow and harvest all the food in grocery stores and restaurants to be frontline workers.
Besides the risk of infection, farmworkers in Gilroy have also been heavily affected by the economic crisis, according to the Rev. Michael Hendrickson. He’s the pastor at St. Mary’s, where it’s not unusual to see a couple of lowriders parked in the church lot during Mass.
“Between unemployment and cut-back hours, it’s been devastating,” he said.
Leticia Garcia has worked in the garlic fields for 13 years, most recently as a sorter. Her arms and feet hurt after standing for eight hours at a time, she said. With the coronavirus, her hours have been cut, she said. Her pay, $15 an hour, is barely enough for her rent, which is $2,000 a month but often goes up twice a year.
“It’s not enough for everything else,” she said. “It’s a lot of bills.”
She was thankful for the goods being donated, which besides staples such as rice, pasta and fruits and vegetables included female hygienic products, masks, sanitizer and even straw hats for farmworkers.
“It’s a lot of help because what we get here, we don’t need to buy,” Garcia said.
A nonprofit set up on the church grounds has been feeding about 3,000 families a week, according to Hendrickson, who said that it can be hard to get aid specifically to farmworkers because they are often busy working long hours.
“Those who work hardest to keep us fed, they themselves are at risk of hunger,” Hendrickson said. “This is long overdue.”