Nearly a thousand farmworker women will gather Friday in Tulare, one of California’s poorest counties, for the annual Farmworker Women's Conference. They'll learn about education, social services and have an opportunity to discuss their lives and the health challenges they face.
Lali Moheno of Visalia started this San Joaquin Valley conference 11 years ago because she wanted to help other women farmworkers. Moheno’s mother spent decades picking cotton and grapes. She died without any medical insurance to treat her leg injuries and diabetes. Moheno sought to help educate other women and share tactics to improve their lives.
"You will be a better person, a better mom, a better voter, a better woman," Moheno said, "if you learn to think on your own -- if you learn take control of your life and not let other people control your life."
Moheno says the conference is a forum where farmworker women deal with topics considered taboo: domestic violence at home and, as I have documented on The California Report, sexual harassment and assault in the fields.
Undocumented women not surprisingly fear law enforcement, so the conference works to break through those by inviting dialogue with the local District Attorney and Sheriff’s Department to talk about sexual violence. Plus, health organizations will be on hand to let women know about the services they offer.
Moheno says women at the conference become empowered through sharing their stories. "They are promoters of their own destiny," she says. "They have legitimized farmworker women as human beings. As productive members of our community."
And as community members, they do much more than pick fruits and vegetables. They work in their children's schools, educate each other about pesticides and try to prevent gangs in their neighborhoods.
Earlier this month, the California Wellness Foundation awarded Moheno its California Peace Prize for her efforts to prevent violence against farmworker women.
Here's a short video about Moheno from the foundation: