Erika: marcando el paso en nuestro baile a la salud

Zumba teacher, Erika Vera, with longtime Zumba participant, Yesenia Serratos.

Los martes por la tarde, la música desborda el salón multiusos de la escuela primaria en Pescadero. Dentro, mujeres de todas las edades y unos cuantos hombres valientes están sudando y sonriendo mientras saltan, se agachan, se contonean y bailan por el gimnasio. Una mujer con una playera de estampado brillante y mallas verde neón dirige a esta multitud al frente del salón, dando palmas y animando a todo mundo. Bienvenidos a las clases de zumba de Erika. Erika es el furor de la zumba en Pescadero, inspirando cada semana a su comunidad a moverse, meneo a meneo, contoneos a contoneo.

La zumba -una clase de una hora de movimientos de baile coreografiado diseñada para tener un ritmo cardíaco alto- es reconocida ahora nacionalmente como una de las maneras más divertidas de hacer ejercicio cardio. La zumba implica danza y movimientos aeróbicos al ritmo de música animada. La coreografía incorpora hip-hop, soca, samba, salsa, merengue y mambo.

Erika comenzó a ir a zumba por primera vez en 2010 cuando comenzó en Puente, y dice que, aunque siempre quería estar al frente para aprender los pasos, ella era tímida y al principio no se veía a sí misma como instructora, como una líder. Pero cuando Puente necesitó más instructores en 2013, decidió lanzarse. “Mi primera clase” dice “no quería que la gente me mirara, pero ahora hago contacto visual y reconozco a la gente cuando vienen a la clase y conectamos”.

Diversos estudios muestran que la zumba es una forma efectiva de incrementar la forma física aeróbica, el tipo de ejercicio que mantiene el corazón sano, reduce la presión sanguínea, y puede ayudar a prevenir o a controlar la diabetes y otras enfermedades crónicas. Los participantes han mencionado perder peso y tener más confianza en sí mismos al caminar y correr conforme hacían ejercicio habitualmente.

Y sin embargo, aunque los beneficios de salud del ejercicio cardiovascular regular son innegables, lo que sorprende a uno al entrar a la habitación es la comunidad. La mayoría de las noches, tres generaciones de miembros de la comunidad están bailando, desde bebés en brazos hasta abuelas, estudiantes de primaria o de preparatoria, madres, padres y más. Hay viejos amigos, hay nuevos amigos. Pero ser parte de esta activa comunidad es aún más profundo. Más allá de las carcajadas y el baile, la zumba es parte de un número de programas que Puente ofrece para reducir el aislamiento, y se ha comprobado que ayuda con la depresión posparto. Aunque no todo el mundo entiende español, Erika se asegura de que todo el mundo se sienta bienvenido, y de que bailen de cualquier manera que se sientan inspirados, ¡siempre y cuando se muevan!

Erika comenta, “me siento como una fuente de apoyo para la gente. Soy voluntaria porque sé que la gente cuenta conmigo”. El programa se lleva a cabo completamente mediante voluntarios, con apoyo de Puente en lo administrativo, y la coordinación, el cuido de niños y la comunicación, y las clases tienen lugar dos veces a la semana en Pescadero y una vez a la semana en La Honda. Desde su comienzo en 2010 en Pescadero y hace casi dos años (julio de 2015) en La Honda, cerca de 140 adultos han estado marcando un pasodoble en su camino a la salud y muchos más niños han aprendido acerca de los hábitos de ejercicio saludable uniéndose a la diversión.

La zumba en La Honda también está causando sensación. La instructora Siobhan Togliatti dice que, aunque el grupo es pequeño, ¡tienen fuerza y están dedicados! Se reúnen cada miércoles por la noche en el gimnasio de la escuela de La Honda para disfrutar los mismos beneficios – una fiesta de baile y la oportunidad de conectar con vecinos a los que de otro modo uno no vería regularmente.

Erika y su familia se van a mudar a Sacramento en abril, y cerca de 40 personas vinieron al gimnasio el pasado martes para celebrar y asistir a su última clase. Aunque se echarán tremendamente de menos la energía y el calor humano de Erika, su legado a la comunidad se hará sentir durante años. Tres instructores voluntarios de zumba más han dado un paso al frente para cubrir las clases de Erika mientras otros miembros de la comunidad reciben entrenamiento.

Erika dice “la salud es algo de lo que no oí mucho mientras crecía. Mi consejo para las personas que quieren estar sanas o empezar a moverse más es utilizar lo que tienen, y hacer algo que disfruten. Vayan a dar un paseo, monten en bicicleta, vayan a la playa -no necesitan un gimnasio. ¡Utilicen lo que está disponible para ustedes!” No sólo se están tomando al pie de la letra esto los adultos, sino que también la juventud que mira y se une a las clases está aprendiendo formas de ser activos y estar sanos de por vida. Dos estudiantes de la preparatoria han sido ya entrenados como instructores y ayudarán a enseñar las clases durante el verano. Traen un nuevo espíritu a la pista de baile.

¿Y la esperanza de Erika para el futuro de la zumba en Pescadero? ¡Más clases y más instructores! “Lo que hemos empezado aquí tiene que continuar” dice. Juntos, están uniendo a la gente y creando nuevas formas de hábitos comunitarios saludables, uno que es simplemente divertido.

El programa de zumba de Puente recibe el apoyo de la Fundación Bella Vista y también donaciones de participantes del programa. Para apoyar los esfuerzos de salud de Puente, haga clic aquí.

 

Erika: Dancing our way to health

On Tuesday evenings, the music booms out of the elementary school multi-purpose room. Inside, women of all ages and a few brave men are sweating and smiling as they jump, squat, shimmy, and dance their way around the gym. A woman in a bright patterned t-shirt and neon green leggings is leading the charge at the front of the room, clapping and encouraging everyone. Welcome to Erika’s Zumba classes. Erika is a Pescadero Zumba sensation who weekly inspires her community to get moving, one shake and shimmy at a time.

Zumba – an hour-long class of choreographed dance moves designed to get heart rates up – is now nationally known as one of the most fun ways to do cardio. Zumba involves dance and aerobic movements performed to energetic music. The choreography incorporates hip-hop, soca, samba, salsa, merengue and mambo.

Erika first start attending Zumba in 2010 when it began at Puente, and says that even though she always wanted to be in the front to learn the steps, she was always shy and didn’t initially see herself as an instructor, as a leader. But when Puente needed more instructors in 2013, she decided just to go for it. “My first class,” she says, “I didn’t want people to look at me, but now, I make eye contact and acknowledge people when they come to the class and we connect.”

Studies show that Zumba is an effective way to increase aerobic fitness, the kind that keeps hearts healthy, reduces blood pressure, and can help prevent or manage diabetes and other chronic disease. Participants have talked about losing a little weight and becoming more confident in walking and jogging as they build regular exercise habits.

And yet, although the health benefits of regular cardio are undeniable, what strikes one most as you walk into the room is the community. Most nights, three generations of community members are dancing, from babes in arms to grandmothers, elementary and high school students, moms, dads, and more. There are old friends, and there are new friends. But being part of this active community goes deeper. Beyond the laughing and the dancing, Zumba is part of a number of programs Puente offers to decrease isolation and has even been shown to help with maternal depression. Although not everyone understands Spanish, Erika makes sure that everyone feels welcome to join, and to dance in whatever way they feel inspired, as long as they move!

Erika notes, “I feel like I am a source of support for people. I volunteer because I know people count on me.” The program is entirely volunteer-run, with administrative, management, childcare and outreach support from Puente, and classes run twice a week in Pescadero and once a week in La Honda. A core group of 15-20 comes every week to Pescadero, and 5-10 come every week to La Honda. Since its inception in 2010 in Pescadero and almost two years ago (July 2015) in La Honda, nearly 140 adults have been two-stepping their way to health and many more children have learned about healthy exercise habits by joining in the fun.

Zumba in La Honda is gaining traction too. Instructor Siobhan Togliatti says that although the core group is small, they are mighty, and dedicated! They meet every Wednesday night in the La Honda Elementary School Gym to enjoy all the same benefits – a dance party and a chance to connect with neighbors whom you may not see regularly otherwise.

Erika and her family are moving to Sacramento in April, and nearly 40 people descended on the gym last Tuesday to celebrate and attend her last class. Although Erika’s energy and warmth will be missed tremendously, her legacy in the community will be felt for years. Three other volunteer Zumba instructors have stepped up to cover Erika’s classes while a few other community members get trained.

Erika says, “Health is something that I didn’t really grow up hearing about. My advice to people who want to get healthy or start moving more is to use what you have, and do something you enjoy. Go for a walk, ride a bike, go to the beach – you don’t need a gym. Use what you have available to you!” Not only are her fellow adults taking this to heart, but also the youth who watch and join in the classes are learning lifelong ways to stay active and healthy. Two high school students have already been trained as instructors and will help teach classes during the summer. They bring a new flair to the floor.

And Erika’s hope for the future of Zumba in Pescadero? More classes and more instructors! “What we have started here has to keep going,” she says. Together, they are bringing people together and creating new kinds of healthy community habits, one that is just plain fun.

Puente’s Zumba program is supported by the Bella Vista Foundation as well as donations from program participants. To support Puente’s health efforts, click here.

Saying thanks during Farmworker Awareness Week

Photo by Ellen McCarty

“Every time we sit at a table to enjoy the fruits and grain and vegetables from our good earth, remember that they come from the work of men and women and children who have been exploited for generations.”  Cesar Chavez

March 31st marks Cesar Chavez Day, which recognizes the contributions of a man who looked around, saw injustice, spoke out, organized, and resisted. The resistance of countless farmworkers resulted in the founding the United Farm Workers Union, or UFW, in 1962. Consumer boycotts and farmworkers’ organizing eventually led to better pay and safer working conditions for those who toil on the front lines of agriculture.

National Farmworker Awareness Week (NFAW) was established by Student Action for Farmworkers, in 1999 in Durham, North Carolina. NFAW (March 24-31, 2017) is an opportunity for all of us to look around, see injustice, speak out, organize, and resist. In a time when we care deeply about what we eat, we can easily refuse to see the men, women, and children who grow our food. At the very least, we need to reflect about the individuals who feed this country.

History – “We used to own our slaves, now we just rent them.”

In 1960, the famous journalist, Edward R. Murrow, helped produce a documentary called Harvest of Shame, which focused on the plight of the migrant farm worker in the US at the time. In the film, one farmer makes the chilling statement above, effectively characterizing farm labor as modern day slavery.

In the United States, we expect food to be cheap and plentiful, and it is easy to see where that expectation comes from. For hundreds of years, farmers were able to bring cheap, plentiful crops to market because they had slave labor. The tough reality—154 years after President Lincoln freed the slaves in the South—is that the expectation of cheap, plentiful food remains. That means that feeding this country today still depends on a hardworking, very low earning labor force of farmworkers. Over 70% of that labor force is comprised of immigrants, according to the 2013-2014 National Agricultural Workforce Survey (NAWS). Immigrants are often the only ones willing to do the hard work necessary to maintain that stream of cheap, plentiful food.

National context

“Work hard and you can get ahead” is core to what we think of as “The American Dream.” That dream does not reflect reality if you are a farm worker. Federal laws of the Depression era 1930s specifically excluded farmworkers from provisions that provided for overtime pay, minimum wage, unionizing rights and workplace protections. The 2013-2014 NAWS reported that farmworkers’ mean and median incomes from agricultural employment the previous year were in the range of $15,000 to $17,499. Sixteen percent of workers earned less than $10,000; only eight percent in the United States earned $30,000 or more. Thirty percent had family incomes less than the federal poverty level. Farmworkers earned an average hourly rate of $10.19 per hour. Since the 1980’s, the costs of producing food has skyrocketed, but the real costs have not been passed on to the consumer.

The reality is that farmworker labor is physically debilitating. Workers have to work very long hours, through rain, cold and heat for extremely low wages. Federal laws continue to exempt farmworkers from overtime pay — only 35% reported having health insurance and 31% report living in crowded living conditions (NAWS, 2013-2014). Here in the United States, we can’t claim that hard work will get you ahead and then systematically exclude some of the most hardworking people from basic rights and opportunities afforded to literally every other job in this country.

In recent years, the foodie movement has put more focus on where people’s food comes from and how the animals were treated and raised. Though laudable, starkly missing from this conversation, are the people involved in producing our food. Are the workers treated with dignity and respect? Are they fairly compensated for their work? It is as if the farmworkers are invisible. They are invisible because many are undocumented and have no immigration relief available to them despite their hard work—even if their employers wish to sponsor them. Fortunately, new trends in the sustainable agriculture movement consider not only where food comes from, but also the quality of life for those that grow the food we eat. A recent study indicated that raising farmworker wages to $15 hour today would cost consumers only $21.15 a year.

Today, farmworkers in California earn about $30,000 a year if they work full time — about half the overall average pay for all California workers. Most work fewer hours. Nine in 10 agriculture workers in California are still foreign born, and more than half are undocumented, according to a federal survey.

The South Coast perspective

The legacy of Cesar Chavez lives on in our great state of California. Farmworkers contribute significantly to California’s economy, and California is the top farming state in the US. Our minimum wage is one of the three highest in the country at $10.50 per hour, with plans for it to rise to $15 per hour by 2022. California is one of few states that provide some overtime pay for farmworkers, currently after 10 hours of work per day. There was also a law passed in 2016 that will bring that threshold down to 8 hours of work, finally beginning to level the playing field for farmworkers.

Critics of these policies argue that agriculture should have its own rules because of its seasonal nature. The person who loses the most in that scenario is the frontline farmworker. Any increased labor cost to the farmer needs to be built into the cost of food. The onus must be shared by a society that needs to be willing to pay prices that reflect the true cost of food production.

Here on the South Coast, all workers are making at least minimum wage, and some farms give raises to workers after employing them for 6 months or a year. Workers are almost all paid by the hour, avoiding “pay by piece” issues that often arise when workers are instead paid by how much they harvest. Unfortunately, even though many workers have had the same jobs for 5, 10 or 15 years, they still earn only the minimum wage. The economics of our food system are complex. It is not as easy as asking farmers to raise wages. To do so, they also need to raise their prices, meaning their buyers may find someone else to buy from, which can put the entire business at risk, including the farmworkers’ jobs.

Housing remains an enormous challenge here on the South Coast. Farmworker wages cannot keep up with the exorbitant cost of rent in the Bay Area. Unable to afford market rent, many workers and their families live in crowded conditions with little or no access to necessities such as laundry facilities or public transportation.

Puente

Puente has its roots in supporting farmworkers and we continue that work today, almost 20 years later.  Puente’s role has grown and evolved in this community, but farmworkers and their families still make up the backbone of the South Coast and hence remain at the core of our work.  Our oldest program, La Sala, still provides a hot meal and social space for farmworkers twice each week. Additionally, our bike repair program focuses on getting farmworkers reliable transportation without having to deal with the costs associated with a car.

Our hope is that our community can be one where farmworkers and their families cannot only survive, but also thrive and flourish – despite the challenges and pressures exerted upon them by antiquated federal laws.

What can I do?

At the very least, say thank you! Farm labor is probably one of the most thankless and invisible work. Find an opportunity to connect with farmworkers and farmers in your community and make it clear you appreciate their efforts. Find out more about where your food comes from and support your local farmers market. Inform yourself about the challenges faced by farmworkers by watching films like Food Chains or Harvest of Dignity. Another very simple way to support farmworkers is to donate to Puente.

On April 4 at 7pm, join us in recognizing Farmworker Awareness Week with the screening of the film The Other Side of Immigration in the multi-purpose room of Pescadero Elementary, with a discussion to follow.