How the Term ‘Essential Worker’ Obscures the Cost of Racialized Human Life

“The Latino community is suffering a lot right now,” says Arnulfo Romero. The former field supervisor lives in Santa Maria, California, an agricultural community that, depending on which way its sea breeze blows, smells of strawberry, broccoli, or diesel. The town is small by California standards, populated by about 107,000 residents. Most, like Romero, are Latino of Mexican origin. Many are also Indigenous (primarily Mixteco).

While the Santa Maria Valley’s berry crops have sweetened the region’s reputation, its large concentration of COVID-19 infections now brings notoriety.

“Santa Maria’s number of coronavirus deaths has been higher than anywhere else in Santa Barbara County,” Romero laments. “The only place that looked like it was going to outpace Santa Maria was the prison in Lompoc. But it got worse here.”