Honoring Our Partners During Hispanic Heritage Month

Living in California, we are blessed to live and work alongside many talented, dedicated and courageous Hispanic American champions.  Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15) is an annual celebration of the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for many Latin American countries. From artists to organic growers to policy champions, we are grateful to work with Latin/a/o/x/ and Hispanic trailblazers who partner with us to create a more just world.

Gabriela Ortiz 

© Gabriela Ortiz, México. Photo: Mara Arteaga

Latin Grammy-nominated Gabriela Ortiz is one of the foremost composers in Mexico today, and one of the most vibrant musicians emerging in the scene. In partnership with TomKat MeDiA – founded by Kat Taylor and Tom Steyer along with Marcela Davison Avilés, who serves as Managing Partner – the Center for Steinbeck Studies and CaminoArts.org commissioned Ortiz’s world premiere, ‘D’Colonial Californio.” Inspired by the Peninsula’s main route El Camino Real, Ortiz’s concerto for flute and orchestra is a musical reflection on migration and diaspora. Felicidades from your TomKat MeDiA family on the world premiere of your violin concerto, Altar de cuerda (String altar) featuring Spanish soloist María Dueñas and conductor Gustavo Dudamel at the LA Philharmonic. You can listen to some of Ortiz’s work on TomKat MeDiA’s Instagram page.

Alex Zubia 

Alex Zubia (center) with Kat Taylor (R) and Vicki (L), an employee of La Luna Bakery and Cafe distribute locally grown produce for free 

Alex Zubia has played an integral role in the success of our Growing The Table program in Fresno, CA. As a chef, he connects organically with his community through food and cultural expression. He currently serves as Food Sovereignty Director at Fresno Barrios Unidos, where he encourages folks to return to eating and cooking Indigenous foods. Through our partnership, we had the opportunity to see how deeply rooted Zubia is in his community, ensuring families feel cared for and have access to fresh, local produce. 

“People are worthy and we have a lot to be proud of in Fresno,” Zubia says. “We just have to start gaining more control of it.”

Senator Monique Limón

© Senator Monique Limón

California State Senator Monique Limón is the second woman and first Latina elected to represent a district that includes Santa Barbara and over half of Ventura County. Her leadership has ensured the strengthening of consumer protections for all Californians with authoring legislation that stood up the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation. She has also advocated for budget priorities and legislation to alleviate food insecurity during the pandemic and School Meals for All.  We are grateful for Senator Limón’s ongoing leadership, and her relentless commitment to advance the needs of our most under-resourced communities in California, including communities of color. 

“The Universal Schools Meals Program is beneficial to every family who has a child in school,” she says. “Knowing that students can go to school and be fed no matter what background they’re from is very important; it’s important for the health of our students, their learning, and for the ease of the parents.”

Diana Tellefson-Torres

Diana Tellefson-Torres (L) and Kat Taylor distribute locally grown, organic produce to under-resourced families in Fresno

We met Diana Tellefson-Torres in Fresno during the second round of our Growing the Table program in 2021. She was working side by side with her staff and volunteers handing out 12-pound boxes of fresh produce grown by local Hmong andLatin/a/o/x/Hispanic farmers, as well as dry goods to families in need. Tellefson-Torres is the Founding Executive Director of the United Farm Workers (UFW) Foundation, which advocates for more equitable policies for farmworkers and provides services for undocumented individuals. Working with Stanford University graduates, Tellefson-Torres will be unveiling a one-stop UFW Foundation mobile app created specifically for farmworkers. The app – made by Entidad – integrates blockchain-based Web3 technologies, which will “enable farmworkers to securely upload sensitive documents like immigration forms and paperwork for aid and services right on their phones,” according to Stanford Magazine. The app is just one more example of how UFW Foundation and Tellefson-Torres strive to help undocumented farmers organize and receive the resources they deserve free from intimidation or deportation. Si se puede.

Manuel Cervantes 

Manny Cervantes trains farmworkers in organic farm management at ALBA in Salinas

We met Manuel (Manny) Cervantes on a foggy morning on the Salinas campus of the Agriculture & Land Based Training Association (ALBA), where he works as the Grower Liaison between incubator farmers and potential buyers. In Salinas, where 18 percent of the labor force are farmworkers and most are Latin/a/o/x/Hispanic, ALBA creates opportunities for low-income field laborers through land-based training in organic farm management. As ALBA’s “boots on the ground,” Cervantes helps farmers create crop plans, manage irrigation efficiency, and get their produce to market. He is instrumental in helping farmworkers pursue their dream of farm ownership. 

Marcela Davison Avilés

© Marcela Davison Avilés

Marcela Davison Avilés is a prominent essayist, independent producer, attorney, and Latino cultural dramaturge and advisor. She is a partner and Managing Director of TomKat MeDiA with Kat Taylor, and Founder and Managing Partner at The Chapultepec Group LLC, developing several original projects for film, television and the concert hall. Considered the “go to” professional in Hollywood for storytellers of Latino/a/x and Hispanic subjects, her work as a trusted advisor is relied upon by major Hollywood studios and arts organizations to ensure their storytelling is not only culturally authentic, but relevant and accurate. In addition to having served as a Lead Cultural Consultant for Disney/Pixar’s Coco, Avilés filmography also includes over 60 credited television episodes and specials. Davison Avilés was born in the border town of Nogales, Arizona.

Assemblymember Luz Rivas

Assemblymember Luz Rivas is a School Meals For All policy champion.

Assemblymember Luz Rivas was born in Los Angeles to an immigrant family, living in shared homes, back houses, and a garage. Overcoming multiple disadvantages, she attended MIT and Harvard, became an electrical engineer and then a member of the California Assembly. ​​We are proud to call her our policy champion for children as she understands the burden families bear from widening economic disparity. Assemblymember Rivas was the driving force behind AB 508 to eliminate school lunch debt for all low-income students across the state and fully supported the idea of two free school meals per school day from the onset. 

“In districts like mine that are food deserts, it’s especially important to reconnect our students with the importance of farming and the associated health benefits of eating locally grown food,” she says. “I was proud to have worked on our universal school meals program last year, and I am looking forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to ensure the meals we provide to our students are California-grown and healthy.” 

 

Claudia Castorena

Claudia Castorena – second from the right – gets ready to distribute fresh produce at the Galilee Center with Growing the Table team members

Claudia Castorena is arguably one of the most inspirational and passionate leaders in the Coachella Valley. A perpetual servant of marginalized communities, she has started multiple organizations to help support disadvantaged children, families and farmworkers.  Castorena is co-founder, and currently  CEO, of the Galilee Center, which provides food, clothing and various services to the Mecca community. During the height of the pandemic, her organization increased rental assistance services by 600 percent, illustrating just how essential the Galilee Center and its staff are to the local community. Tangentially, Growing The Table supported Castorena’s food assistance program, which serves roughly 350,000 meals annually. While visiting Coachella Valley, we were delighted to find out that she had actually founded our other partner organization, Martha’s Village & Kitchen, where she spent 20 years helping displaced individuals find shelter and job opportunities.

Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta – pictured in the center – with the production crew of A Conversation With Dolores Huerta and Linda Ronstadt, an award-winning documentary about the influence of mariachi music on the farmworker movement. Also pictured on the far right is producer Marcela Davison Avilés.

Community organizer, civil rights activist, and farmworker advocate Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), to advocate for equitable farmworkers’ working conditions. Between the 1960s and the 1970s, Huerta coordinated successful produce boycotts which were pivotal to the passage of the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975. This would be the first law to give agricultural laborers the right to select, join, and participate in unions. Since then, Huerta joined the U.S. Commission on Agricultural Workers, founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2017, the award-winning film “Dolores” documented her life and accomplishments. You can also watch episode one of “A Conversation With Dolores Huerta and Linda Ronstadt on Vimeo.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia

California Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia is a game-changing legislator representing the 56th District which encompasses the Coachella Valley, a Growing The Table program community. He has committed himself to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in California by ensuring the Department of Food and Agriculture includes these groups in the development, adoption, and enforcement of food and agriculture laws. Most recently, he introduced legislation that would create a pilot program to provide unemployment benefits to undocumented workers. The bill — a high-priority legislation for the Latino Legislative Caucus — would provide undocumented workers with $300 per week for up to 20 weeks of unemployment between Jan. 1, 2023, and Dec. 31, 2023, according to CalMatters. Climate change disproportionately affects Hispanic and Black communities, and undocumented farmworkers are especially vulnerable. 

Yadira Mendiola

Yadira Mendiola pictured on her farm, Queen of the Vegetables in Salinas, CA.

Yadira Mendiola, who runs Queen of Vegetables Farm at the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, dreams of expanding her small farm so she can make a profitable business for herself and her family. She grows culturally relevant, healthy produce like organic tomatoes to feed her local community. We met her last year when she told us about some of the challenges she faces as a small-scale farmer, including access to more land. Mendiola says she hopes more people learn about those who grow local organic agriculture so it will help increase sales and get her another step closer to fulfilling her dream. “You feel so good when you plant something, harvest it, and then sell it,” she says. “In your head, you say, “Oh, someone is eating my vegetables!”