Valentina Velasquez ’20 Gives Back During the Pandemic

Valentina Velasquez '20. Photo by Esther Woo.When the COVID-19 pandemic caused students to begin distance learning from home, Valentina Velasquez ’20 took the opportunity to support essential farm workers in her hometown of Watsonville with her extra time. In April, Velasquez and local community organizers formed the Watsonville Campesino Appreciation Caravan (WCAC), commonly known as la caravana, and since then, she spends most of her Saturday mornings driving by fields with signs to thank workers who continue to provide communities with food throughout the pandemic.

During her time as an undergraduate at Saint Mary’s, Velasquez sustained her commitment to social justice and participated in different areas of interest on campus, including La Hermandad, the Intercultural Center, and the MICAH Summer Fellowship. This past fall, she shared her work with the Saint Mary’s community as a guest speaker at the Afro-Latinx/Latinx/Indigenous Peoples Action Subcommittee’s Annual Heritage Celebration, Love in the Time of Corona: Organizing, Action, Coalition. Velasquez explained how the caravan started as an effort to show appreciation but has since expanded its “Adopt a Cuadrilla” (adopt a work crew) efforts to share COVID-19 information, as well as safety materials such as cleaning products and protective masks.

As a recent graduate with a BA in Spanish and Ethnic Studies, Velasquez acknowledges that her involvement at Saint Mary’s gave her the skills to work with people from different backgrounds and build relationships. When it comes to language, she added, “I’ve always recognized it as a form of communication with community members. Studying Spanish at Saint Mary’s helped me sharpen those skills.”

Similarly, Velasquez’s work with la caravana allows her to put theoretical frameworks that she gathered from Ethnic Studies into practice. She credits classes like Critical Race Theory and Multicultural Thought, taught by David Quijada, as having a lasting impact on her, as well as her Ethnic Studies capstone project. “When I was writing, I was writing during COVID and at the start of the work with la caravana, so they kind of paralleled,” explained Velasquez. “I was looking at grassroots movements in my own community and looking at what can be implemented in service learning in the classroom.”

Velasquez understands that the work of the caravan is far from over, but she recognizes the difference it has made during the pandemic and in the lives of so many farm workers. “When I’m out there I think about my grandparents on both sides of my family and their parents and their cousins who had to work in the fields to get us where we are today.”

To support the Watsonville Campesino Appreciation Caravan, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or donate to their fundraiser.

Learn more about the Intercultural Center here.