ST. HELENA ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – Many immigrants, particularly from Mexico and Guatemala, have worked as essential workers throughout the pandemic to put locally grown fruits and vegetables on our tables.
If you’ve ever bought a locally grown watermelon or tomato, then there’s a chance Alfonso Ramos De León picked it. He’s been an agricultural worker for decades in the Lowcountry but faces new threats in the field because of COVID-19.
“Put a mask on yourself to keep me safe and healthy, but if another person brings the virus to us without knowing, well that’s the problem,” said De León, who is also recovering from cancer.
Local healthcare providers, like Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, have worked to protect the community of largely immigrant, non-English speaking essential workers.
Mari Valentin is the director of the Farm Worker Health Program at BJHCHS. She says that fewer workers this summer and better efforts to educate workers have helped them control the virus in the community.
“We have been able to contain the pandemic within the farm workers through our health education, advertising, giving them masks,” said Valentin.
These essential workers critical to the public’s health usually face mental health struggles while coming here to work, aside from the newfound struggles of not having the proper space to social distance.
Agricultural Worker Health Program Director Carlo Victoriano, with South Carolina Primary Health Care Association, says it’s important for people to recognize that the health of agricultural workers impacts the whole community.
“It’s just really difficult for them to kind of comply with that with their living conditions and also with some of their working conditions. Some of them are working closely with each other,” said Victoriano.
As for De León, the cancer survivor has been in remission since May and says even though he has lost some hair, he hasn’t lost his strength to continue working.
“I’m going to turn 70 the last day of October and I feel really able to continue working, it’s my pleasure to,” he said. “I’ve always loved working in the field.”
Editor’s note: Direct quotes from Alfonso Ramos De León were translated from Spanish into English by the author.