Mothers of the Farm
BY IVAN ROCHA
The essential farmworkers are still clocking minimum wage in the produce fields of California while the schools that kept their children have closed down amid the corona chaos.
“I wish I could stay home with my son,” said 31-year-old Camerina of Watsonville, “but we need the money.”
Camerina asked to remain partly anonymous but said, “Now I have to pay $12 a day for my son’s kid sitting. It adds up. He’s 9 years old but if he was younger it would cost more.”
Camerina makes $13 an hour. This is the minimum wage for the size of the company she works for. The city of Santa Cruz’s website, Cityofsantacruz.com, says a living wage for this county is $17.38 with benefits. Produce pickers are highered mostly through private contractors and do not get benefits.
Araceli, who also asked to remain partly anonymous, runs an off-the-grid daycare. She is Camerina’s kid sitter. “I only charge $12 daily, or $15 if they use diapers because I know how hard it can be to make ends meet.”
Araceli’s unofficial daycare is a blessing for the farmworkers. The average daycare in Santa Cruz charges much higher daily rates.
Veronica Diaz, 52, of Diaz daycare in Watsonville explains why, “I charge $50 daily for any child under 2 years old, $40 if they are older. It’s because I have my credentials and help prepare the children to enter public schools.” She added, “Santa Cruz’ county’s Department of Education monitors us. They have a set of rules and standards we follow.”
Diaz’ rates are the standard rates for daycares in Santa Cruz County.
A single farmworker averages between $520 to $620 weekly depending on whether they work Saturdays. If they have young children, they will pay an average daycare rate between $200 and $240 per week, for children over 2.
The COVID closedown has actually been a financial relief for many farmworkers.
“I usually have more kids but right now I’m only watching Caremina’s son,” said Araceli.
Diaz has also seen less business, “We haven’t had clients. The farm laborers that are working are leaving their children with family members who have been ordered to stay home so a lot of daycares have closed down.”
Maria Guadalupe Rocha, 37, has been a farm laborer for 16 years and has delegated the task of kid-sitting to her older son. “I have 9 and 15-year-old boys. The 15-year-old is capable of watching the younger one so I just leave them at home while I work.”
Lucia Tapiz, 42, has also felt the benefits of the closedowns, “My son is not in public school yet so I would have to pay for his daycare. Now my older daughter watches him. That’s an extra $200 we can keep. I know the virus is scary but it feels good to have a little more money.” She added jokingly, “Maybe we can use it for a good Mother’s Day gift.”