National Farmworker Awareness Week is an exciting time for farmworker advocates across the country. It is an opportunity for us to engage with our communities and bring awareness to the many problems that plague farmworkers today.
Farmworker children don’t have the same protections offered to other working children in the U.S. and suffer detrimental effects on their health and education, often condemning them to a life of poverty (as noted in an earlier blog post). But in order to effectively advocate for farmworkers, we must include their voices. Through the Children in the Fields Campaign, AFOP highlights this American problem and works with farmworker youth in agricultural communities to inspire a new generation of advocates.
There is something truly powerful when the youth who we work with become leaders in their communities and empower their families, friends, and fellow students. Our Children in the Fields Campaign youth council members have planned student-led leadership conferences, created photo exhibits and videos documenting their farmworker lives, and performed in plays about the dangers of pesticide exposure. It is amazing the inspiration our youth council members have become in their communities, especially for other farmworker youth given the many barriers they face, in such a short amount of time.
National Farmworker Awareness Week includes César Chávez Day, the birthday of farmworker advocate and civil rights leader César E. Chávez. Chávez dedicated his life to the improvement of working conditions for farmworkers, both in and outside of the fields. Although he died over a decade ago, Chávez continues to inspire others, including these farmworker children, to fight the good fight on behalf of America’s impoverished and under-served communities.
Many of our youth council members will be involved in events across the country in honor of César Chávez Day. In Texas, our youth council members will be participating in marches, a blood drive, and premiering a video they created on farmworker children to their schools. In California, our farmworker youth will be meeting with state-elected officials and starting their photo project to illustrate what their lives are like. In North Carolina, the youth are bringing attention to the struggles of the farmworker community through college events and film screenings.
As the Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign, I too must lead through example. Having grown up in a migrant farmworker family, I shared many of the experiences and obstacles farmworker children must overcome today. I was inspired by César Chávez to share my story with others in order to show the realities and effects of child labor in agriculture, and the hard life farmworkers live. This year on César Chávez Day, I will be speaking at the annual César Chávez Lecture Series at Hope College in Holland, MI. I will be presenting on the plight farmworker children face today and the great work our campaign has been doing to address these problems.
We must follow in the footsteps of César Chávez and become active members of this movement. Farmworkers cannot continue to work and live in the conditions they do today while we enjoy the fruits of their labor at minimal costs.
In the words of Chávez –
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
Farmworkers play a vital role in our community. We need to restore the dignity in their work for the betterment of our nation.