‘Staying close’: Salinas farmworkers make a home amid California's housing crisis by Sebastián Hidalgo
CatchLight Local Fellow Sebastián Hidalgo and reporter Kate Cimini, in collaboration with CatchLight, The Salinas Californian and USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, examined how farm-working families in Salinas, California — the fifth least affordable place to live in the United States — create home in the midst of a housing crisis.
Introduce yourself: Tell us who you are in a couple of sentences.
I’m an American-born Mexican visual journalist and educator based in Chicago. For the last five years, my work has focused on a range of social issues affecting communities of color. I use photography as a tool to work with communities and newsrooms. I also teach about gentrification and hold panel discussions about trauma-informed approaches in journalism.
What was the genesis of this project?
In 2019, I was displaced from my community, Pilsen, in Chicago. But it didn’t happen right away.
Throughout the years, historical murals were painted over in gray; high price restaurants and single-family homes replaced beloved storefronts and community members. Slowly, the neighborhood turned into a place I couldn’t recognize, and I began to look outwards to see what was there. Questioning along the way, “What is a home, and how can we create and maintain it?”
A few mentors mentioned Salinas when I asked them the question. These are poets, scholars, muralists, artists, other journalists and close friends. Some were raised in the city of Salinas in the ’60s and ’70s. They shared stories about how they migrated from the farmlands that surround Salinas and were lured into the manufacturing and food industries in Chicago. It was a sort of (specifically) Mexican workers’ history of the United States. I began to research the high cost of living in the city and connected with a few people while still in Chicago. Soon after, I applied to the CatchLight Local fellowship.
My proposal examines the housing landscape and how farm-working families create a “home” amidst the housing crisis in Salinas. I took the necessary steps to ensure I was able to embed fully and be open to learn, unlearn and relearn as much as I could from the people who call the city home –– that was important to me.
What did you learn from this project and fellowship?
I learned how interconnected both Chicago and Salinas were to one another. In Salinas, much like in Chicago, there is a need for an abundance of resources like trilingual translators for the city’s indigenous population and living wages to match the high price of rent, among other needs.
I also learned about the importance of breaking monolithic narratives around issues like the housing crisis and labor. Working families are the experts of their needs but often go unheard or ignored. This trend continues to be the norm even today.
What do you think the role is of visual journalism in addressing local issues such as the housing crisis in Salinas?
Our role as visual journalists is to document the issues without dehumanizing people and their stories. Photographers have an opportunity to include and engage with the communities they are reporting in — not just on a local level but on a daily basis.