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MA Lifestyle

Latinas Play An Integral Part In The Run For The Roses



On the backside of Churchill Downs, among frolicking cats and neighing horses, a small, square box of mint grows against a barn wall. Martha Orantes planted the garden, a freshness among the scent of stale straw.
Mint Juleps aren’t a thought on the backside. Martha has never tasted one. These grow for cooking.
For eight years, she and her husband have made their home on the other side of this wall, in a small room within earshot of the horse stalls. Here, like many on this side of the track, the woman from Guatemala lives and works and dreams.
Of the 1,000 workers on the backside, Latino immigrants comprise roughly 70 percent of the population. Women, who have joined these predominately all-male ranks throughout the past several decades, make up around 30 percent of the workforce.
As most of Louisville awakens, these ladies have been working for hours, moving 100-pound bales to muck stalls or circling their charges around the barn as a cool down after practice. Grooms use warm water to sponge the horses’ sleek coats, causing steam to rise and linger in the cool air.
Spanish penetrates this bustling community, from words uttered by a chaplain over the PA system to the soothing sayings said to the expensive equines. You wonder if the horses are bilingual, too.
And, yet, the stories behind the Latina women who live and work here rival the most riveting Run for the Roses.
Despite drawbacks, caring for the horses provides steady income when work for immigrants can be hard to find. For some, a week here pays more than a month and a half in their home countries…
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