These oral histories were conducted by FIU students in collaboration with We Count! — a membership organization of immigrant workers and families fighting for better living and working conditions.
The collection documents the experiences of women working outdoors in South Florida's extreme heat and their advocacy to pass historic life saving protections on the job against heat illness and heat stress. The narrators share stories of enduring heat strokes, and other long-term health consequences resulting from working in record high temperatures. Many narratives unravel unsafe working conditions, often without guaranteed access to clean cold water and shaded breaks.
As a result, the video interviews offer a rare glimpse into the day-to-day struggles faced by women working in fields and nurseries. But the collection also highlights the workers' leadership in the landmark ¡Qué Calor! Campaign aiming to establish the first county-level workplace heat protections in the United States.
A heartfelt gratitude to our narrators for their time and courage. This collection would not have been possible without the support from WeCount!, FIU’s Digital Collections Center and the Digital Scholar Studio. Special thanks go to the digital librarians Rebecca Bakker and Molly Castro.
Finally, we recognize students in the ENC4331 course Writing, Rhetoric, and Community, taught by Dr. Marta Gierczyk in Fall 2023 for their time and effort preparing, recording, and editing the oral histories. These students include: Annabella Baboun, Catherine Casanola, Ashley Coll, Juana Duque, Frederick Finnerty, Ryan Flynn, Sofia Fuentes, Luisa Giancristofaro, Isabella Gonzalez, Ruth Gonzalez, Lauren Lascano, Katherine Lopez, Isabella Menendez, Leanna Monem, Frank Munoz, Cristina Oropesa, Karla Ravelero, Demir Sanal, Christian Tellez, Jeremiah Thony, Ashley Velazquez, William Wood.
Sandra Ascencio and Juana Duque
In this interview, Sandra Ascencio describes her experience working in South Florida nurseries where workers must work without water, food, or breaks. She opens up about how she suffered a heat stroke. In addition to detailing the gruesome conditions which caused the injury, Sandra explains the long-lasting impacts of the heat stroke on her health. Because of these long-term consequences, she isn't able to work as many hours as she had prior to the stroke, which affects her financially. Much of the interview focuses on Sandra’s role in the Que Calor! campaign and her ongoing advocacy for outdoor workers’ protections against extreme heat.
Julieta Isabel Díaz González and Sofia Fuentes
This interview contains the story and voice of the outdoor worker and We Count! leader, Julieta Isabel Diaz Gonzalez. The interview explores her background working in agriculture, her experience as an outdoor worker under the extreme heat in Florida, and her role in the Que Calor! campaign and We Count organization. Julieta describes the harsh conditions under which she works including demanding physical labor without a supply of water or rest. She speaks on the generational breakthrough she is experiencing in holding a position of leadership with other outdoor workers and taking action towards making changes in her community.
Ingrid Garcia and Frank Munoz
In this interview, Ingrid discusses her experience working in nurseries. She describes what a typical day of agricultural work is like for her, including how she prepares beforehand and the actual tasks of her job. Ingrid also explains how working in the extreme heat day in and day out is brutal on the body and negatively affects her skin. She describes how membership with We Count! empowers her to organize for better working conditions for outdoor workers like water, shade, and rest. She highlights the fact that through this organization she has learned about her rights and what she can do to stand up for any injustices in the workplace. She recommends that other outdoor workers inform themselves about their rights and the laws that protect them.
Zoila Garcia and Demir Sanal
This interview follows Zoila Garcia, an 18-year-old who works outdoors in a plant nursery. Zoila explains how many of her concerns stem from the lack of protections for outdoor workers, as well as the mistreatment of outdoor workers by people overseeing the farms. She recounts some of her experiences when she was new to this line of work and didn’t fully understand how strict the rules were and how far-reaching the lack of protections are. For example, once Zoila was reprimanded for taking a fifteen-minute bathroom and water break instead of a five-minute one.
Francisca Godinez and Sofia Fuentes
During her interview Francisca Godinez, a Guatemalan immigrant, shares her experiences with outdoor work in both Guatemala and the United States. She moved to the U.S. in 2005, at the age of 19, to work in the fields. Francisca is a single mom who lives with and cares for her five children on her own. Her husband was deported in 2016 following Donald Trump’s election into office, leaving her with nowhere to turn. She expressed her frustration with the agricultural industry and the deplorable conditions that she, and many others, have had to work under. She also expressed her gratitude for We Count! and their “Que Calor!” campaign. They have not only served as a voice for outdoor workers, but have cultivated a community that helps individuals such as Francisca feels more safe and supported in all areas of life.
Silvia Hernandez and Juana Duque
In this interview Silvia Hernandez describes her work trajectory in the agriculture industry, as well as highlights the harsh labor conditions she and other workers endure. Specifically, Silvia speaks about the consequences of working in the South Florida heat for such prolonged hours every day. She describes how workers in the industry-- herself and her friends included--suffer from heat-induced health issues such as headaches, rashes, and dehydration. Moreover, Silvia provides examples of how the outdoor workers try to care for themselves in the face of a lack of external protections by bringing their own water, Pedialyte, food, and Gatorade. Finally, the interview emphasizes the urgent need to implement a heat standard to provide basic protections for outdoor workers. Silvia describes her own participation in the Que Calor! campaign.
Julia Mez and Demir Sanal
In this interview, Julia Mez shares the hardship she has experienced as an outdoor worker. The incidents she describes include bosses yelling at her and talking down to her, as well as not supplying basic provisions, like sometimes sufficient water supply for the workers. In her experience, workers are frequently expected to supply these necessities for themselves. Julia discusses the dangers of not having access to water and shade. Finally, she shares how her involvement with WeCount! has left her feeling much more connected to the immigrant community in South Florida. She repeatedly mentions how important WeCount! has been in helping immigrants, including herself, understand their rights, navigate the system, and advocate for themselves.
Reyna Guadalupe Osorio and Katherine Lopez
In this interview Reyna Osorio recounts her story before she moved to the United States and her process of immigrating to this country. Reyna explains the dangers of living in El Salvador at the time and how it threatened the safety of her family. She shares her love for her children and the struggles of being a single mother. She explains how her love for her daughters led her to move to this country and consequently work in nurseries. Reyna then shares how the extreme heat and workload affected her body, plus the different types of obstacles she faced while working from nursery to nursery. Reyna’s story gives us an insight into what the life of many immigrants who end up working in nurseries is like.
Maria Elena Roblero and William Wood
In this interview, Maria Elena Robelero shares the hardships of working in the intense South Florida heat. Specifically, she explains how due to the extreme heat and harsh conditions, she now suffers from an eye condition. She is afraid of going to the hospital for assistance because of the high cost. Maria also discusses her background and family life, as one of her sons accompanies her in the interview.
Francisca Valerio and Catherine Casanola
In this interview, Francisca Valerio shares her story about working in manual labor under the Miami sun for 30+ years and her experience with We Count! for the Que Calor! campaign. Being the first of nine children and a woman, then starting her family at twenty-one, she describes the pressure of having to help her mother, younger siblings, and own children from a young age. Having worked on her parent's farm in Mexico since she was a young girl, shortly after arriving in the States, she “accepted” to do the same here. She shares her experience working at a nursery and the conditions which she has had to work under. She tears up as she remembers the time when she felt that death was near as a result of being exposed to extreme heat with no breaks or water. She explains how working under the sun with no shade, water, or bathroom breaks has affected not only her health and personal life, but her husband’s as well. Francisca gives an optimistic view on the fear commonly shared by nursery workers; which she once had herself, but has now overcome with the help of We Count. She shares how We Count has impacted her knowledge about her labor rights and aided in finding her voice.
Juana Vicente and Catherine Casanola
In this interview, Juana Vicente shares her experience with extreme heat being a nursery worker. She shares her thoughts on the difference in the manual labor between working at a nursery in Miami compared to a farm back home. She explains the working conditions which she must operate in, such as no water breaks, no shade, no rest, and until recently, no clean bathrooms or bathroom breaks. She recalls the recent occurrence that there were no clean bathrooms, porta potties, at the nursery where she works until a worker filed a complaint with OSHA. Juana has been in the U.S. for seven months and has become a part of the social change organization, We Count! in order to make a difference in the passing of a law that will provide outside workers such as herself, with basic needs such as water, shade, and rest. She expands on the organization and the legislation.