Alva and Aquino are so much happier now that they’ve moved from an unimproved garage with no bathroom or kitchen to an affordable two-bedroom apartment in Cloverdale.
“Thank God for mucho baňo (bathroom) and all this space I can enjoy when I’m home,” Alva Quintanilla, 59, said through translator Janet Arreguin, a teenage daughter of the lawyer for farmworkers Myra Arreguin, who both live in the 32-unit Cloverdale. Family apartments. Quintanilla is a Guatemalan immigrant who once picked peaches from orchards in the Central Valley and worked in the region’s vineyards.
The couple, who are just friends, are very grateful to all the groups and individuals who helped them afford to move to their new digs, including Corazón Healdsburg, Latinos Unidos del Condado de Sonoma, La Familia Sana and all individuals who have donated furniture. , money and some woman essentials after a story https://bit.ly/3KD1nPF in The Press Democrat spread the word that they needed help. Early on, a group called “Direct Action for Farmworkers” in San Francisco gave them a new microwave, coffee maker, toaster and blender.
Aquino, 59, a winemaker from Oaxaca, Mexico, who did not want to use his last name or be photographed, said in Spanish, “I am the happiest I have ever been.”
Both were featured in a November Democratic news story https://bit.ly/3y8sQWx about substandard housing and the lack of affordable housing in Sonoma County. They lived in the garage for five years, paying monthly rent of $650. They waited several months on a waiting list until their name was offered for affordable housing.
Ezequiel Guzman of Healdsburg, who advocates for farmworkers as president of Sonoma’s Latinos Unidos del Condado, and several volunteers helped move the couple.
After their original move-in date of March 15 was delayed while the apartment was repaired and painted, they moved out of the garage and temporarily lived in a friend’s trailer to avoid paying more rent.
They took the final step on April 1 and are now paying an extra $300 per month for their new 951 square foot home.
Despite these happy changes, life is still hard for Quintanilla. Blind since February 2021 due to diabetes, Quintanilla can only see a few forms. She underwent eye surgery, but it failed to save her vision. She always wears glasses to help shield herself from the sunlight streaming through the blinds into the nice and tidy apartment.
Fellow farmhand Aquino came to his rescue, taking him with him when he moved from Merced to Sonoma County to work in the vineyards. She pruned vines until she could no longer do so because of her blindness.
“I put myself in his shoes,” he said. “I do my part to be a good human being.”
Now Quintanilla is frustrated that she cannot contribute to the household income.
“I was busy all the time before I was blind,” she said. “So I didn’t mind living in the garage as much.” She felt the cold that shook her body even more after she couldn’t work anymore.
Now she has nothing to do but walk around feeling the walls of the beautifully decorated but sparsely furnished apartment to avoid bumps and bruises. She wishes she could see the new couch, dining table and bedroom that the “good souls” donated, Guzman said. But at least she can turn on the heating.
Sometimes she folds laundry and gets dressed, choosing clothes based on her memories from a new wardrobe. Sometimes Alva and Aquino go to parks or shops on weekends to break the monotony.
Aquino gets up every morning at 5 a.m. and prepares meals of chicken, rice and vegetables before going to work. After driving through the vineyards, he calls her periodically to make sure she is okay. He fears she may faint because of her diabetes, he said. She prays that Aquino can continue to work to support them and is extremely grateful for all he does.
Quintanilla has an eye exam scheduled for mid-May and Guzman said she will see a Spanish-speaking therapist next week. And now that she’s settled, he’s considering getting her help from a blind service organization so she can walk with a cane and get around better.
The two still can’t believe their good fortune and that the strangers were so generous.
“God is going to reward them for what they have done,” Quintanilla said.
“I just want to thank the community for their kindness,” Guzman said. “There are just a lot of good hearts out there.”
You can reach editor Kathleen Coates at [email protected] or 707-521-5209.