Hundreds of women filled the Visalia Convention Center for the annual Farmworker Women’s Conference on Health, Safety, Employment, Education and Environment, a free event focused on the plight of women farm workers.
Attendees had the opportunity to learn about available local and state resources—everything from reporting sexual harassment to accessing child support.
The conference has grown over the last 20 years from a small gathering in a hotel meeting room to a full-day event at the convention center. This year’s sold-out conference had over 1,500 people in attendance.
Lali Moheno, the director of the United Women’s Organization, is the brains behind the conference and put on the first event in 1999. She wanted to find a way to honor her mother, who recently died after struggling with health complications from a lifetime spent as a farm worker.
She held a meeting in a Holiday Inn conference room that was suited for 50 people. And 200 women showed up to learn about health care resources that they could use.
The attendees were grateful for the information. But they told Moheno their problems didn’t stop at health care. Other issues they faced included education, child care, fair wages, sexual harassment, domestic violence and child care.
Moheno said she didn’t think about the overall wellness of a woman, which is more than just a pap smear. Throughout the last 20 years, she’s expanded the services and information the conference provides.
At Friday’s event, there were sessions, mainly in Spanish, throughout the day on immigration, social media, mental health, human trafficking, diabetes and suicide prevention, safe driving, employee development and support for kids and teens.
Dozens of booths from various agencies were also set up for attendees to visit. Department of Pesticide Regulation, California Rural Legal Assistance, Cal-OSHA, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Adventist Health, Visalia Unified School District, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office and many others offered information and handouts on their areas of help.
Maria Atunez, one of the conference attendees, said there was a lot for her to learn, especially about how to help her family and her health.
“There was so much information, like how to help children, about health,” Atunez said in Spanish. “There was a lot about diabetes, which is very important.”
Attendees also enjoyed a free lunch from Vallarta Supermarket. While they ate, a band, Los Jefes Del Norte, performed and two keynote speakers gave speeches.
Bruce Goldstein, an attorney and executive director of Farmworker Justice, spoke about the work his organization, which is a D.C.-based nonprofit that helps farm workers to control their own lives, like with immigration, occupational safety, labor rights, health and access to health care and access to the justice system.
Goldstein explained the many issues his organization is focused on right now, such as H-2A visa program, pesticide use, fair wages and sexual harassment.
“This country exists because poor people came here to work and live, and made it a prosperous country,” Goldstein said. “We should not be denying immigration status to people who work hard for low wages.”
Dr. Adalberto Renteria, the chief medical officer for the Central California region of Adventist Health, told his story as a child from parents, who immigrated from rural Mexico and worked as farm workers, to becoming a doctor.
“The boy who almost died in a car wreck where there was limited health care for the underserved is standing before you today,” Renteria said. “I am the proof that you should never let anyone stand in your way of making a dream your reality.”
Moheno was also presented with a resolution from the California Legislature for her work putting together the conference over the last 20 years.
“I don’t like to get recognition, but this is such an honor,” Moheno said. “I really think this is beautiful, it’s an honor for me to get it, but actually I work with a team and this is for all of us.”
At the end, a handful of lucky attendees won furniture from a raffle.
“Everything about the conference is nice,” said Maria Aguilar, one of the attendees, in Spanish. “I learned so much.”