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¡Ayuda, Por Favor! A Hotline Service Wants To Help Stressed Out Spanish-Speaking Farmworkers

Several people wearing hats and masks hunch over in a large field of green plants, picking crops.
Farmworkers harvesting curly mustard in 2021 in Ventura County.
(Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images)
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More than four in 10 California's farmworkers say they do not speak English — with nearly all reporting they do speak Spanish.

That reality helped inspire Farm Aid, in partnership with Migrant Clinicians Network, to hire a Spanish-speaking hotline operator to offer mental health services and other resources.

“I’m there to listen to them and how they say in Spanish ‘desahogarse’ [venting] and then afterwards we can try to find a route to what would best help them,” said Elizabeth Gonzalez Ibarra, who started in the role in November.

How it works

Elizabeth Gonzalez Ibarra sits a table with a sign that reads Farm Aid. She is getting the word out about a Spanish-language hotline service she operates at the Latino Farmer Conference in Escondido, California. Ibarra wears a checkered blazer and the table has several informational pamphlets.
Elizabeth Gonzalez Ibarra getting the word out about the hotline at the Latino Farmer Conference in Escondido, California
(Courtesy Elizabeth Gonzalez Ibarra )
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As the national hotline’s sole Mental Health First Aid Certified Spanish-language operator, Ibarra hears from farmworkers who are suffering not only from the pressures of poverty, but also from natural disasters.

Ibarra is based in Texas but she said she’s seen a lot of calls coming from California lately, especially Monterey County, where flooding has displaced thousands of residents.

What we know about the stressors

Devastating wildfires —and more recently, flooding— are major stressors for farmworkers who have their health and livelihoods affected by the onslaught of disasters, Ibarra said.

The pressures of farming are personal for her. Her grandfather still has a huerta in Mexico where he grows avocados and lemons. Ibarra said the work she’s doing with immigrant farmworkers is empowering.

“They’re coming in and just wanting a better life... as my family came here for," she said. "So it drives me to help these people and let them know everything is going to be okay at the end."

More than a language barrier

More than 40% California farmworkers report being non-English speakers and 92% of them speak Spanish, according to a report last year from the Public Policy Institute of California.

“The pressures and stress of poverty, language barriers, some farmworkers are remote and isolated and there’s concerns and fears around immigration... all these things add to the stress of farmworkers,” said Dr. Laszlo Madaras, Migrant Clinicians Network chief medical officer.

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Madaras said he’s heard of farmworkers in California who lost their homes during the flooding and he’s personally seen workers in the fields while, around them, large fires are raging.

The Farm Aid hotline operators in try to connect callers with free or reduced rate counseling whenever possible, said operator Lori Mercer.

What's next

As the program matures, the hope is to have more mental health resources translated into Spanish.

“One of the things that we’re there for is just to listen, because a lot of people are not heard very often and don’t have that outlet. So I would encourage them to call even if it’s just kind of to verbally process,” Mercer said.

How to find help

The hotline can be 1-800-FARM-AID (1-800-327-6243)

Additional mental health resources

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