Standing next to Laura Dern in a robe dress with a single sparkling strap, Mónica Ramírez blended in with the rest of the Golden Globes attendees. Dressed in black – the night’s unofficial uniform – she and most of the rest of Hollywood came to deliver a message: Time’s Up on the pervasive behaviors that have led to the sexual abuse and harassment of many, especially those in the most vulnerable positions.
Typically, the stories of Ramírez’s clients go unnoticed and underreported, but the January 7 event brought them to the surface like never before. For more than two decades, the civil rights attorney and activist has fought for women whose struggles take place in the shadows. In the fields across the country, the female farmworkers she works with are often subjected to discrimination and harassment, risking their jobs if they speak out. In their world, sexual assault is a painful reality with justice not readily available.
Through Ramírez’s work with the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Farmworker Women), she and co-founder Mily Treviño-Sauceda have fought for these women to be heard, often without much national support or awareness. “We were silenced,” Treviño-Sauceda tells me. “The union would talk about workers rights, but [for years] sexual harassment wasn’t an issue [that was addressed], so women were not coming forward.”
But last fall, as actress after actress shared stories of sexual abuse and harassment in her field, people finally started to pay attention – and not just in Hollywood circles. When Ramírez attended the Golden Globes as Dern’s date, she witnessed Oprah standing up for them, too. In a moving speech, Oprah expressed her gratitude for “all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue,” before identifying these women as the farmworkers, domestic workers, scientists, athletes, soldiers, and more, “whose names we’ll never know.”
“It was so overwhelming,” Ramírez tells Remezcla. “Everyone was saying this Golden Globes just felt different. The focus wasn’t on what people were wearing, it was on the issues.”
“The focus wasn’t on what people were wearing, it was on the issues.”
And since the launch of the Time’s Up initiative, conversation hasn’t waned. A few weeks later at the 2018 Grammys, celebrities wore or carried white roses to show their solidarity. This carried over into the actual show, with Kesha and other women dressed in white performing “Praying,” a song that came after the star’s allegations against Lukasz Gottwald. During the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble, which took place the same night as the Grammys, wrestler Lita wore a Time’s Up shirt in the ring. It’s likely that this year’s Oscars, slated to take place on March 4, will see celebrities bringing attention to the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements that have turned several industries upside down.
At the height of award season, it’s noteworthy that the conversation is not just about what actors or musicians will win or what they’re wearing, but about how we can hold abusers accountable and how we can support those whose voices have too long been silenced. The reasons we’re having these conversations is largely because of the 700,000 female farmworkers who inspired the Time’s Up movement, and whom Ramírez represented at the Golden Globes.
Last November, when actresses began speaking out against Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men, the campesinas of Alianza weren’t shocked by the allegations. They knew what it felt like to be afraid to speak up, and they knew what it felt like to want to work, without the pain, without the exploitation that came along with it. They were ready to help.
After a series of conversations with female farmworkers, Ramírez drafted an open letter to their sisters in Hollywood, expressing their support for the actresses and raising awareness for the conditions many campesinas face each day.
— Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (@campesinasunite) January 20, 2018
“We understand the hurt, confusion, isolation and betrayal that you might feel,” Ramírez wrote. “We also carry shame and fear resulting from this violence. It sits on our backs like oppressive weights. But, deep in our hearts we know that it is not our fault. The only people at fault are the individuals who choose to abuse their power to harass, threaten and harm us, like they have harmed you.”
After members of the Alianza marched alongside with Hollywood stars during the Take Back the Workplace march in November, they inspired Time’s Up – a legal defense fund that aims to help women across all industries fight against sexual harassment and assault.
“The only people at fault are the individuals who choose to abuse their power to harass, threaten and harm us.”
“These farmworker women live in the darkness, they live in the shadows and that was paralyzing for them,” Ramírez says. “For these actresses, it was the spotlight that was paralyzing for them.”
A legal defense fund could make all the difference in the case of female farmworkers. For many of them, the possibility of losing work is enough to keep them silent, and the idea of paying legal fees to seek justice is out of the question for women who make an average of just $11,250 a year.
“There are situations when women have come forward to talk about sexual harassment and their families lose their homes, lose their jobs,” Ramírez adds. “Their very basic necessities are threatened by speaking out.”
Ramírez and Treviño-Sauceda know firsthand how female farmworker are conditioned against speaking out. The daughter of two generations of migrant farmworkers, Ramirez’s family experiences led her to pursue a career as a civil rights attorney. For Treviño-Sauceda, it was her personal experiences of sexual harassment in the fields that pushed her toward activism in the late ’80s.
“It gives me chills remembering what happened to me,” Treviño-Sauceda states. “I didn’t know how to explain it [to my family]; I just knew it didn’t make me feel good and that I didn’t want to be harassed. I just remember crying and not talking about it anymore.”
Though she struggled to talk to her father about it, she later realized she wasn’t alone. By partnering with a colleague, Treviño-Sauceda set out to identify the most pressing issues female farmworkers faced. After interviewing 60 farmworkers in the Coachella Valley, they identified sexual harassment as a “constant threat.” But women were still afraid to come forward.
That’s when Treviño-Sauceda started sharing her story. Since then, she’s constantly advocated for female farmworkers and launched the Alianza with Ramírez in 2012.
“All along this topic has been a challenge, ever since women have decided to come forward,” Treviño-Sauceda says. “Because of the kind of community we are, it’s been hard to get attention. But whether we’re farmworkers or celebrities, this is happening to women in all sorts of industries. The [actresses] might be getting the attention, but they’re giving back to the women who aren’t visible.”