Talking to Estella
In the mid-1980s, Estella’s parents arrived from Mexico to begin life in Western Oregon. Soon after arrival, her father began work year round with a vineyard helping to establish, cultivate, and care for the vines, and in the fall to harvest and deliver the fruit to the winery. Her father has been with the same vineyards and winery for over 25 years. Her mother too practices farming through an area nursery.
Born here in the United States, along with her siblings, Estella has been able to focus on education. Today she is in the process of completing her college degree in community health. The program includes internships, through which Estella currently serves ¡Salud!, a community health and wellness, care and education program designed to support vineyard workers in the Willamette Valley.
I ask Estella what made her choose her degree program. She returns to talk of her parents. “My parents migrated here from Mexico, and all the hard work they did to get here, and to give my siblings and I our life here, was not appreciated by me or my siblings growing up.” As she continues, she explains to me that when they arrived, her parents had to work very hard to find employment, but also, because they did not understand English, it was hard for them to connect to services. After a few years they were given the opportunity to become residents, but still their situation was hard. Estella is the first in her family to go to college.
Several years ago now her father developed diabetes. Her mother has high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Vineyards workers tend to have very little access to health care. Employers are not required to provide health benefits to farm workers, and many vineyard workers also speak very little English. Estella’s parents would not have known of their health concerns, except for the on site mobile health clinic ¡Salud! that tested them. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are each manageable conditions that become life threatening when untreated. Estella explains to me that it is because of ¡Salud! her parents knew how to better their health, so they could continue working and care for their family.
Through his on going relationship with one winery, and with the same vineyards, Estella’s father has the position of being a touchstone for the overall health of his company’s vineyard. His consistent relationship with the place means that he has the hands’ on awareness about how each site, and vine are doing, and when it is time to replace or treat particular plants. Further, by knowing the other members of the vineyard crew, and the people that work at the winery, as well as the specifics of the vineyard sites themselves, the work of people like Estella’s father help harvest go both quicker and smoother year to year.
The kind of constancy found in her parents’ work Estella intends to show to her own family. Her further motivation for school, she tells me, is found through her daughter who just turned two at the start of August. Though she could have planned to marry and simply have a family, the inspiration of her parents’ hard work helped Estella see that she wanted to focus on long term education and well being. By gaining a degree, she has the opportunity to focus on giving back to the community, returning to it what she has been able to learn. Estella explains that currently she is in her second internship with ¡Salud!.
Originally, she volunteered for the program out of curiosity to see more of what it was about. Through the program Estella and her siblings had been able to receive health care along with her parents, and the program manager, Leda Garside would regularly encourage Estella to work towards college. “Leda gave me the opportunity, by encouraging me, and letting me know the doors to the [¡Salud!] Center were open.” So, when it came time to select a college internship, Estella requested ¡Salud! Quickly she fell in love with the program. What she appreciates about it is how much it is guided by the needs of the workers themselves, and by what aspects of it really are helping them. “That is why we’re here, to better not only their health, but their family’s too.” This is why she’s dedicated to go to college.
As Estella finishes her degree, she also works about 30 hours a week, while raising her daughter. Her partner, her baby’s father, she tells me, is very supportive, as are her parents, who live in the same city and spend a lot of time with their granddaughter. In considering what she has gained from her parents, and her work in college, Estella tells me this. “I wanted to be able to depend on myself, to know in that way my life was set. Taken care of. Especially since my daughter came into the world. From all of this I know I can pull myself through.”
Estella will graduate with her undergraduate degree in Community Health in Winter 2013. She intends to continue on to do a Masters Degree in Public Health, with the plan of working with migrant farm and vineyard worker populations.
Thank you to Estella for taking the time to speak with me. Thank you to her partner, and to her parents.
Thank you to Sheila Nicholas for inviting me to visit the ¡Salud! Mobile Clinic. More on ¡Salud! to follow.
Working La Uva 1: Meeting Fulgencio: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/08/09/working-la-uva-1-a-life-in-wine-meeting-fulgencio/
Working La Uva 3: Leda Garside and ¡Salud!: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/08/11/working-la-uva-3-leda-garside-and-salud/
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