Voices: Sam Jones

For LA Galaxy's Julian Araujo, helping California farm workers hits close to home

Farmworkers - Julian Araujo feature - November 2020

When you’re a professional athlete for long enough and at a high enough level, you eventually reach a point where you realize people are paying attention to you. Once you realize that it's up to the athlete in question as to what to do with it.

At 19, the LA Galaxy’s Julian Araujo has realized it. And he’s decided to stand for a segment of the population that’s often ignored, and one whose issues hit close to home.

Araujo’s dad, Jorge, and his mom, Lupe, both worked in the fields. Jorge farmed lettuce and Lupe was a farmer’s daughter. Julian has been around farm workers his entire life because he was born into a family of farm workers. Immigrants from Mexico who found a way for themselves and eventually their family. They came as teenagers, not knowing any English, and still found a way despite hours that went from sun up to sun down and the most minimum of wages.

His brother eventually worked in fields as well. His friends, too. 

So when Julian realized people were paying attention to him, an up-and-coming star for the Galaxy, he knew he could get people to pay attention to his friends and family.

“Everything that they went through. Getting up early, going to sleep late, getting home late and just doing everything in their power just to provide for us as a family and making sure that we had everything we needed. That was something I wanted to just be vocal about and use my platform about,” Julian said told MLSsoccer.com in a recent interview.

For LA Galaxy's Julian Araujo, helping California farm workers hits close to home - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/family_formatted.png

Araujo family photo (left to right): Julian, his sister Karina, his parents Lupe and Jorge with their granddaughter Ximena, and Juilan's brother Jorge Jr.

He talked to his family. And he found his first way to help. He had meals delivered to workers in Lompoc, his hometown located a couple of hours away from Los Angeles. Each meal carried a message:

“When the sun rises, you are working. When the sun goes down, you continue working. Thank you for working with your hands, your mind, and your heart, cultivating hope for future harvests. Sí, Se Puede!"

That’s just the first move. Julian is hoping to make many more. And while he doesn’t have all the answers — what 19-year-old does? — he’s doing research. He’s putting the work in. And he’s asking questions. 

When a video of farm workers in Sonoma County working directly next to one of the raging wildfires tearing through California this summer caught his eye on social media, he sent out a message on Twitter.

“I want to use my platform to bring attention to the grueling conditions and low pay that our field workers are experiencing every day. If anyone has any further information on ways that I can help, please reach out. These men & women deserve better!!!”

This year the typically grueling conditions farm workers face have been made even worse by intense wildfires and COVID-19. The fires have affected air quality during a pandemic involving a virus that attacks the respiratory system. It’s a bad combination in general, but especially for a portion of the population that not only works long hours outside, but has been disproportionately affected by the virus.

As of late July, Latinos made up 39% of California’s population but represented 56% of COVID-19 cases in California and 46% of deaths according to the California Health and Human Services Secretary. About 90% of the state’s agricultural laborers are Latino.

All of this while often making next to nothing for their work.

Araujo, who has started 15 Galaxy matches this year and finished No. 12 in the latest 22 Under 22 rankings, hasn’t thrown any haymakers in this fight yet, but he’s learning how to throw jabs. He plans to meet with activists and unions for farm workers’ rights like the United Farm Workers of America to better understand how he can make an impact. As his profile increases as one of the league’s most talented young players, his platform will grow, too. And simply by making an effort to understand and to act, it's apparent that he’ll be well prepared to wield it to help others.

“I just thought back to the times where my family had told me the situation that they had been in, the sacrifices that they had to make and just the tough times as a working parent," Araujo said. "The workers don't get enough pay, they don't get their healthcare benefits that they deserve. 

“That's why we're going to continue to try to do some research and try to get more information and try to do whatever we can to help them out.” 

The other day, Araujo took that information he’d gathered and took another step forward with his activism. Araujo donated $1,700 to UFW and encouraged others to help as they could. 

This isn’t the last move for Araujo though. This year we’re getting a chance to watch a rare combination of talent manifest itself. Not only are we seeing a player come into his own on the field, we’re seeing a community leader find his voice. It’s a voice coming through loud and clear for a community that so often isn’t heard.