Meet the PhD student documenting the lives of LGBTQ farmworkers

Elisa Oceguera identifies as queer.

She said so to a group of students at Fresno State during a lecture about her personal connection to a project she recently completed as a doctoral student.

Oceguera is producing a digital storytelling project called “Sexualidades Campesinas,” where she features first-hand stories of sexually diverse farmworkers and allows them to share the obstacles they overcome in daily life. Oceguera showed a portion of her videos to anthropology and sociology students on Oct. 8, the first day of Pride Week. The project documents the often-times invisible struggles of trans and sexually diverse farmworkers in California.

Elisa Oceguera, a doctoral student at UC Davis, produced a digital storytelling project to tell stories of LGBTQ farmworkers in California. (Cresencio Rodriguez/The Collegian)

Oceguera is a doctoral student at University of California at Davis, where her focus is on cultural studies. “Sexualidades Campesinas” is an ongoing project that involves CalHumanities, UC California Studies Consortium and UC MEXUS. Oceguera is originally from Stockton and said that her research brought her back to the Central Valley because she was certain LGBTQ farmworker voices were going unheard in many rural areas.

The story project, launched in 2011, was done as part of Oceguera’s doctoral dissertation. She partnered with a few other researchers to complete it, but she had a personal connection to it. During the research, it became about “trying to find a reflection of myself in the community,” Oceguera said.

Her lecture at Fresno State included stories of trans and lesbian farmworker women who defied the odds of living their life in California in spite of few available resources and rampant harassment in the workplace. One story was of a mother who “fell madly in love” with another woman. Oceguera also featured the story “Metamorphosis,” about a trans woman.

The ultimate goal of the project is to improve daily life for LGBTQ farm-working communities and rid rural areas of discrimination against those who are sexually diverse, according to Oceguera. The project also highlights machismo and discrimination against LGBTQ farmworkers.

Among the audience who listened to her lecture, Social Work Department member Claudia Ceja told Oceguera that she has had personal experiences with LGBTQ farmworkers. Among the audience, some admitted that they had never given much thought to the reality that LGBTQ farmworkers exist and live among them. Oceguera and her team’s work aims to normalize those stories.

To find out more on the project, visit the website. To read Oceguera’s dissertation, click here.

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