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GEK Attorney Volunteers to Help Empower Indigenous Communities

Many of us living in Southern California can attest to the deliciousness of the locally grown strawberries and raspberries, but how many of us give a second thought to those workers who toil day in and day out in the fields to pick those tasty row crops? A large percentage of these laborers are Mixtecs, indigenous Oaxacan people from Southern Mexico, who live and work in Ventura, and who have been an integral part of the area's economic growth since the 1970s.

Many do not speak Spanish let alone English, but rather their native language, Mixecto. This vulnerable position can lead to unique challenges in the workplace, and with respect to housing and access to necessities of everyday life.

Indigenous communities in Southern California

Enter the Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), which "is a wonderful non-profit organization that is focused on empowering the indigenous communities in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties," explains Monica Fairwell, a Workers' Compensation attorney at the law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP. And, she should know, as she is president of the MICOP Board of Directors, having served previously as the organization's secretary.

"I got involved after meeting the former Board President Jake Donaldson at a MICOP event," she explains. "I expressed my interest in the group and explained my history of working to assist farm workers through other organizations. That involvement as well as my job as a Workers' Compensation attorney have helped me understand the struggles that workers face. After all, I fight for injured workers every day."

As president of the Board, Fairwell oversees the organization's fundraising operations and leads the strategic planning to ensure ongoing success and a fruitful future. Such a future would dovetail with the group's vision of "a strong indigenous immigrant community actively engaged to achieve just working and living conditions, equality, and full human rights in the broader community."            

"By assisting with fundraising and other volunteer opportunities, I hope that I can create awareness about MICOP so others will donate and spread the word of the great work MICOP is doing for our communities."

That work, according to the organization, includes building community leadership and self-sufficiency through education and training programs, language interpretation, health outreach, humanitarian support and cultural promotion.

"I believe that inequality has no place in our communities. My family history is that of farm workers who were often mistreated in the fields, and who encountered tough obstacles in everyday life. My family fought for equitable treatment in the fields and a better life. I proudly continue that commitment to making a difference if and when I can."


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