Actress, philanthropist and political activist Eva Longoria Bastón is using her star power to help support farmworkers during the coronavirus pandemic and remind Latino voters "that they are the margin of victory" in this year's presidential election.
Longoria Bastón, who has been advocating for farmworkers over the last two decades, is partnering with the nonprofit American Farmland Trust and Tillamook Creamery in the company's "All For Farmers" effort.
As part of its new effort, Tillamook will donate 10 percent of its September sales (up to $1.6 million) to help farmworkers and farmers who have been struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic through grants and direct relief.
One half of the donations are destined to help preserve at-risk farms, Longoria Bastón told NBC News.
"About an average of 2,000 acres of rich farmland is being lost each day to development in America. That's going to a parking lot, to a mall and we have to protect these rich farmlands," she said.
The other half will go to help farmers access land, improve their land security as well as expand their production and adopt new environmentally safe practices.
"We want to raise awareness about the importance of agriculture because it's still the backbone of our country," said Longoria. "If you eat, you should be a supporter of farmworkers and farmers."
The "All For Farmers" effort overlaps with Hispanic Heritage month, which kicks off on Sept. 15. An estimated 83 percent of all farmworkers in the U.S. are Hispanic, according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey, and they will be honored during this year's Hispanic Heritage Awards.
The coronavirus crisis prompted a renewed attention to farmworkers' critical role as people found empty supermarket shelves cleaned out by those stockpiling food supplies and sheltering in place during the early days of the pandemic.
Advocates such as Longoria Bastón have also raised concerns over the health of the nation's farmworkers since they often earn poverty wages and live in overcrowded housing.
Farmworkers are also part of the essential workforce "keeping this country running" during the pandemic, said Longoria Bastón.
"Thirty-four percent of all essential workers are Latinos. That's healthcare providers, nurses, farmworkers, drivers, delivery people, produce stocker at the grocery store, restaurant workers," said Longoria Bastón. "But Latinos are 18 percent of the population, so we over index on the people that are keeping this country running."
The pandemic has also "magnified these disparities that Latinos have, our lack of access to healthcare, our lack of access to education, our lack of access to economic mobility," said Longoria Bastón.
Latinos, the nation's second largest population group, are being disproportionately affected by the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, Longoria Bastón said. So, she's doing what she can to help Latinos harness their voting clout in the 2020 election.
"When you think about voting and Latinos having apathy...Think again, because we are the ones most affected by these policies" creating persistent disparities, said Longoria Bastón. "And policies are created by the people we put in office."
She helped launched "She Se Puede," a nonprofit initiative inspired by Dolores Huerta's rallying phrase “Sí, se puede!" from 1972, after learning that "Latinas specifically are the margin of victory in certain counties and they don't even know it," said Longoria Bastón.
"We want them to understand that power, believe in that power, and then use that power," she said
Longoria Bastón — who is also the co-founder of Latino Victory, a progressive organization working to get more Latinos elected to state and national public office — also launched Momento Latino, a coalition seeking to rally the nation's estimated 60 million Latinos in an effort to erase inequities that have made the impact of COVID-19 more devastating on Hispanics.
Longoria Bastón has long been active in Democratic and progressive causes; she recently hosted the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
In her view, a big myth permeating politics is that the number one issue Latinos care about is immigration.
"The number one issue that Latinos care about is the economy. The number one issue Americans care about is the economy," said Longoria Bastón. "We all want to have economic mobility. We all want to move ahead. We all want to create a better future for our families."
"I think that's where politicians get it wrong. They want to pander to Latinos about these certain issues that they think are Latino issues. It's not, these are American issues," she added. "As the Latino community goes, so goes the country."
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