“Greetings to everybody tuning in to Radio Indígena 94.1 FM,” said a voice coming from the radio’s speakers in Spanish. Moments later, he heard another voice speaking in Mixteco — one of several indigenous languages from southern Mexico.
“I used to feel ashamed of speaking Mixteco,” Cervantes Alvarado, 40, whose first language is Mixteco, said in Spanish. “Whenever I listen to (the radio), I feel proud of who I am and don’t want my children to forget that.”
Radio Indígena was created in 2014 as an arm of MICOP to provide information about labor rights and health programs to indigenous Mexican farmworkers in their native languages. It started streaming shows online and has expanded to FM radio, iOS and Android apps and a call-in number.
Currently, the station broadcasts 40 hours of original shows in Spanish and the indigenous languages of Mixteco, Zapoteco and Purépecha. They focus on a variety of topics, including immigrant rights, domestic violence prevention and indigenous history. Genevieve Flores-Haro, associate director for MICOP, estimates that about 3,000 people listen to the station daily.
Bernardino Almazán, a producer who used to work picking cilantro, said one of the biggest challenges in the early months of the pandemic was explaining what Covid-19 was. The Mixteco language, he says, dates back at least 2,000 years and does not include modern medical terminology.
“We had to find other ways to talk about the virus, give examples of similar illnesses, explain the symptoms,” Almazán said.
The station has since then produced a series of Covid-19 public service announcements about health protocols, school closures, price gauging and mental health.
“We recommend that they don’t pay attention to gossip circulating in social media or to people who may not have accurate information,” Francisco Didier Ulloa, the station’s coordinator and Almazán’s co-host, said in Spanish. “Our duty is to report responsibly.”
Arcenio López, executive director of MICOP, said Radio Indígena has been crucial to informing indigenous communities in Ventura County about Covid-19.
In addition to running the radio station, MICOP connects to the community, largely through door-to-door interactions. That works better than distributing pamphlets because many people who work at California farms come from rural communities in Mexico with widespread Spanish illiteracy.
“It would be ideal that everyone learns English but the reality is that there’s people that would never learn English and there’s people who have just arrived to this country,” López said. “All of them deserve to have vital information in their native language, it’s a basic human right.”
Farmworkers are at heightened risk of Covid-19, advocates say
Many of Radio Indígena’s listeners are Latinos and farmworkers, two groups that have been disproportionately impacted by coronavirus outbreaks in multiple states.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that farmworkers face a particular risk of infection from being in close contact with one another in fields, in shared housing or transport, and because of limited access to clean water for hygiene.
There have been 496 farmworkers who tested positive for the virus, the county said.
López, MICOP’s executive director, said farmworkers have experienced a dramatic loss of work during the pandemic. Those who have jobs struggle with lack of access to handwashing facilities and have to work in close proximity with a large number of people. Many who are employed, he says, feel like they don’t have a choice.
Some would sleep in cars to avoid exposing their families, López says, and others would be afraid to tell their employers they were sick with Covid-19 because they didn’t want to lose their jobs.
“If you talk to a farmworker, many would tell you they are just grateful that they have a job because they live paycheck to paycheck,” López said.
In the past two weeks, advocacy groups have been calling for a committee to develop guidelines for the prioritization and allocation of a Covid-19 vaccine to prioritize farmworkers.