Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

Spanish Speakers Experience Discrimination At Valley Food Pantries

May 29, 2018

We’re standing in a fridge that’s the size of a two bedroom apartment at Food Link Tulare County. The ice box is stacked with produce and dairy products that will soon be in the fridges of Tulare families. Development director for the food bank, Nicole Celaya, says some families who need food won’t get food.

“We’ve been noticing a definite marked increase in hostility out at the distributions whether it’s at our pantries, where our partners report it back to us or at our own nutrition on-the-go sites where we’ve seen some hostility and aggression toward people, and especially toward people who speak languages other than English,” Celaya says.

"We've had people call and say, 'You know those Mexicans or those people that are speaking (Spanish), those immigrants speaking Spanish, they're getting everything and we're not getting anything.'" -Nicole Celaya

Families have been facing discrimination at food sites because they’re speaking Spanish. The majority of people Food Link Tulare County serves are Latinos and farm workers. Celaya says volunteers and people who use their services have made snide comments about People of Color.

“We’ve had people call and say, ‘You know those Mexicans or those people that are speaking (Spanish), those immigrants speaking Spanish, they’re getting everything and we’re not getting anything,’” says Celaya.

An operation supervisor for Food Link Tulare County has been to many distribution sites around the county. Patty Tovar recently encountered a volunteer who was upset that someone only spoke Spanish. Tovar, also a Spanish speaker, says his comments started to offend her. 

“He looked very, very upset,” Tovar says. “And he started mumbling stuff like, ‘You know this is America, you only speak English here.’ And it was just really rude and I didn’t understand some of the words he was speaking because he was mumbling a lot of the stuff. And from trying to be a volunteer he walked away very upset because we had somebody that couldn’t speak English.”

On multiple other occasions at distribution sites, Tovar says people have been offended when she speaks Spanish. She also says she seen a decrease in people coming to get food since President Donald Trump took office.

“All over Tulare County I’ve been to many sites and every community, I would say they’re a little different, but you will get people in every community that get upset because someone is speaking another language in front of them,” says Tovar.

Although they haven’t seen physical aggression there has been verbal aggression, says Celaya. These issues have become more prevalent and obvious within the last year, she says.

“I don’t know the concrete reason but I’m guessing that it’s the political climate that people are feeling more able to be open about their discrimination, about their prejudices, about their racism, and I think they’re just feeling more emboldened by the political climate,” Celaya says.

Celaya says the people who have been discriminated against are too scared to say anything about it. 

“Here ICE has a pretty strong presence and so people are scared, you know,” she says. “They’re scared to go out grocery shopping, to take their kids to school and most definitely their afraid to access resources like ours.”

Discrimination and fear at food banks isn’t unique to Tulare County. Food banks across the state have been battling with similar issues and working on ways to let people know they don’t work with immigration authorities. Daniela Ogden, director of communication and development for the California Association of Food Banks, says since Trump was elected reports of discrimination have increased.

“Almost everyone has sent out letters into their communities, upped the amount of signage they’ve had that promotes the fact that a food bank is a safe space for people to access services,” says Ogden.

Larger food banks have even launched marketing campaigns, Ogden says. Food banks want people to know they can still access food regardless of where they were born, the language they speak and without fear of being deported. Ogden says the fear and the uptick in discrimination against immigrant groups has had a significant impact on their access to food.

“It’s had a tremendous impact,” Ogden says. “You know, we’ve seen entire communities go into hiding. Groups that have, as you mentioned, the historically really hard to reach and to encourage to access services, and it takes a long time to build connections with these communities. We are seeing them choose to go hungry rather than risk deportation or risk discrimination.“

Amber Crowell, an assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Fresno, says ideologies that drive discrimination are historically rooted, and can have “devastating” long-term effects on a community. The fear immigrant populations have of being deported goes hand-in-hand with the discrimination they encounter. Crowell says if people are seeking out food and are instead discriminated against, then food insecurity won’t get any better.

“Because it’s a very vulnerable situation to go out and seek help because you don’t have enough food to eat,” Crowell says. “That’s a hard thing to do, and then to be in that situation and somebody is hostile toward you. That can severely damage trust, because you’re in a vulnerable situation, you’re told these people are here to help and then their hostile toward you over something that should not be a basis of being hostile, like speaking another language.”

However, not everyone has felt hostility at food distribution sites. Rebecca Rodriguez lives in Fresno and goes to the Mary Ella Brown Center every Thursday to get food. She speaks Spanish and often goes with a group of women, some who only know Spanish, and she has never felt unwelcome.

“Majority of the people that come here are Spanish speakers and their a few Asians that come here and they speak their own language,” Rodriguez says.

She says she feels comfortable speaking Spanish at the different distribution sites she goes to around Fresno.

“That’s one thing we have to learn, to respect each other’s language,” says Rodriguez. “I’m happy I speak Spanish, I’m very glad that I could understand Spanish speakers and as far as the conversation theirs no discrimination at all.”

Back at Food Link Tulare County, Celaya says she’s purchased signs and posters that explain they don’t share information with other agencies. She will give a presentation to all the pantry partners in Tulare about being a “sensitive location,” places people go for resources like food. Celaya says it’s important for all locations to sites safe and welcoming.We’re standing in a fridge that’s the size of a two bedroom apartment at Food Link Tulare County. The ice box is stacked with produce and dairy products that will soon be in the fridges of Tulare families. Development director for the food bank, Nicole Celaya, says some families who need food won’t get food.

“We’ve been noticing a definite marked increase in hostility out at the distributions whether it’s at our pantries, where our partners report it back to us or at our own nutrition on-the-go sites where we’ve seen some hostility and aggression toward people, and especially toward people who speak languages other than English,” Celaya says.

Families have been facing discrimination at food sites because they’re speaking Spanish. The majority of people Food Link Tulare County serves are Latinos and farm workers. Celaya says volunteers and people who use their services have made snide comments about People of Color.

“We’ve had people call and say, ‘You know those Mexicans or those people that are speaking (Spanish), those immigrants speaking Spanish, they’re getting everything and we’re not getting anything,’” says Celaya.

An operation supervisor for Food Link Tulare County has been to many distribution sites around the county. Patty Tovar recently encountered a volunteer who was upset that someone only spoke Spanish. Tovar, also a Spanish speaker, says his comments started to offend her. 

“He looked very, very upset,” Tovar says. “And he started mumbling stuff like, ‘You know this is America, you only speak English here.’ And it was just really rude and I didn’t understand some of the words he was speaking because he was mumbling a lot of the stuff. And from trying to be a volunteer he walked away very upset because we had somebody that couldn’t speak English.”

On multiple other occasions at distribution sites, Tovar says people have been offended when she speaks Spanish. She also says she seen a decrease in people coming to get food since President Donald Trump took office.

“All over Tulare County I’ve been to many sites and every community, I would say they’re a little different, but you will get people in every community that get upset because someone is speaking another language in front of them,” says Tovar.

"Here ICE has a pretty strong presence and so people are scared, you know. They're scared to go out grocery shopping, to take their kids to school and most definitely their afraid to access resources like ours." -Nicole Celaya

Although they haven’t seen physical aggression there has been verbal aggression, says Celaya. These issues have become more prevalent and obvious within the last year, she says.

“I don’t know the concrete reason but I’m guessing that it’s the political climate that people are feeling more able to be open about their discrimination, about their prejudices, about their racism, and I think they’re just feeling more emboldened by the political climate,” Celaya says.

Celaya says the people who have been discriminated against are too scared to say anything about it. 

“Here ICE has a pretty strong presence and so people are scared, you know,” she says. “They’re scared to go out grocery shopping, to take their kids to school and most definitely their afraid to access resources like ours.”

Discrimination and fear at food banks isn’t unique to Tulare County. Food banks across the state have been battling with similar issues and working on ways to let people know they don’t work with immigration authorities. Daniela Ogden, director of communication and development for the California Association of Food Banks, says since Trump was elected reports of discrimination have increased.

“Almost everyone has sent out letters into their communities, upped the amount of signage they’ve had that promotes the fact that a food bank is a safe space for people to access services,” says Ogden.

Larger food banks have even launched marketing campaigns, Ogden says. Food banks want people to know they can still access food regardless of where they were born, the language they speak and without fear of being deported. Ogden says the fear and the uptick in discrimination against immigrant groups has had a significant impact on their access to food.

“It’s had a tremendous impact,” Ogden says. “You know, we’ve seen entire communities go into hiding. Groups that have, as you mentioned, the historically really hard to reach and to encourage to access services, and it takes a long time to build connections with these communities. We are seeing them choose to go hungry rather than risk deportation or risk discrimination.“

Amber Crowell, an assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Fresno, says ideologies that drive discrimination are historically rooted, and can have “devastating” long-term effects on a community. The fear immigrant populations have of being deported goes hand-in-hand with the discrimination they encounter. Crowell says if people are seeking out food and are instead discriminated against, then food insecurity won’t get any better.

“Because it’s a very vulnerable situation to go out and seek help because you don’t have enough food to eat,” Crowell says. “That’s a hard thing to do, and then to be in that situation and somebody is hostile toward you. That can severely damage trust, because you’re in a vulnerable situation, you’re told these people are here to help and then their hostile toward you over something that should not be a basis of being hostile, like speaking another language.”

However, not everyone has felt hostility at food distribution sites. Rebecca Rodriguez lives in Fresno and goes to the Mary Ella Brown Center every Thursday to get food. She speaks Spanish and often goes with a group of women, some who only know Spanish, and she has never felt unwelcome.

“Majority of the people that come here are Spanish speakers and their a few Asians that come here and they speak their own language,” Rodriguez says.

She says she feels comfortable speaking Spanish at the different distribution sites she goes to around Fresno.

“That’s one thing we have to learn, to respect each other’s language,” says Rodriguez. “I’m happy I speak Spanish, I’m very glad that I could understand Spanish speakers and as far as the conversation theirs no discrimination at all.”

Back at Food Link Tulare County, Celaya says she’s purchased signs and posters that explain they don’t share information with other agencies. She will give a presentation to all the pantry partners in Tulare about being a “sensitive location,” places people go for resources like food. Celaya says it’s important for all locations to sites safe and welcoming.