There are an estimated 300,000-500,000 children working to harvest the fruits and vegetables that end up on our tables. On Tuesday, December 7 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the 2010 Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP) National Conference, four of those children were recognized as the first place winners of the annual AFOP’s Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Children Essay and Art contest. Vanessa Ayala Sanchez of Mecca, California won first place for her poster entry, in the age category 10-13; Alejandro Rosas of Faribault, Minnesota won first place for his poster entry, in the age category 14-18; Alma Hernandez of West Grove, Pennsylvania won first place for her essay entry, in the age category 10-13; and Israel Rodriguez of Manson, Washington won first place for his essay entry, in the age category 14-18.These amazing young people with the exception of Alejandro Rosas who was unable to attend, moved an audience of farmworker service providers, AFOP staff and board members, proud parents, as well as special guest, astronaut José Hernández, to tears as they shared their dreams for the future.
AFOP’s Conference keynote speaker, José Hernández, addressed the contest winners and their parents, drawing parallels between his childhood and theirs. As the youngest of four children, Hernández worked alongside his family and other farmworkers throughout the fields of California, harvesting crops, moving from town to town, and spending half the year in the United States and half in Mexico. Hernández said, “In spite of his parents only having a third grade elementary education… [they] emphasized education, wherever we were – Ontario, Salinas or Stockton – we were always enrolled in school. When we were in Mexico it was the only time we were not enrolled in school but we would take three months worth of work and basically self-study.” Hernández concluded his keynote by talking to the audience, in particular the winners, about the importance of perseverance something our winners know very well. As Children in the Fields Campaign staff spent time with Alma, Vanessa, Israel, and their parents we realized they are well on their way to accomplishing their dreams of becoming a psychologist, interior designer, and a lawyer with plenty of support from their parents. Congratulations to you all for having the courage to not only dream but to pursue it.
Despite agriculture being ranked the most dangerous occupation in America for children, as a result of a discriminatory exemption in U.S. child labor laws, children as young as 12 are legally allowed to work for an unlimited amount of hours outside of school. Burdened with financial and educational responsibilities, the future of migrant and seasonal farmworker children very often resembles the life they are currently living. AFOP’s 2010 Annual Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Children Essay and Art contest gave these children a chance to have their voices heard. Until the child labor laws are equalized, there will always be a story worth hearing.
Along with an all-expense paid trip to New Orleans, the first place winners received prize money and a certificate acknowledging their talent. The three first place winners that were able to attend received an autographed photo from astronaut José Hernández. We look forward to receiving more essay and art entries in 2011 for our contest theme “Sowing the Seeds of Change”. For more information on AFOP’s 2011 Annual Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Children Essay and Art contest, please contact Norma Flores López via email at email@example.com.