Farmworker Youth: Empowered and Activated to Create Change

By Noemi Ochoa, Children in the Fields Campaign Texas Regional Coordinator

Farmworker Awareness Week is in full swing, and we can’t forget why there is a national week of action dedicated to farmworkers in the first place. In South Texas, raising awareness is what community members, advocates, and students are hoping to achieve. This week, which culminates in the celebration of the birthday of César Chávez, serves as a reminder of the struggles many farmworkers continue to face.

On March 29, Migrants in Action (MIA), a project of the Children in the Fields Campaign in Texas, and the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) will present the documentary “The Harvest/La Cosecha” as a part of the 2012 Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA). FESTIBA was created in 2006 to promote an interest and appreciation for reading and early literacy, celebrate and appreciate the arts and humanities, and broaden cultural awareness within the South Texas community. It is only fitting that Texas, as one of the largest home states to migrant and seasonal farmworkers, host an event where the community, public schools, and local universities can come together to view, hear, and understand the lives and struggles of migrant youth through a medium such as this documentary.

Screening The Harvest/La Cosecha at FESTIBA will bring public awareness to U.S. child labor in the agriculture industry. The film depicts the plight of farmworker children, as it follows three migrant farmworker youth and their families across the country in search of the next harvest. Children as young as 12 years of age work from sun-up to sun-down during the school year in hazardous working conditions, and excruciating weather while handling dangerous tools.  This documentary does not “talk” about child labor but instead shows it through the real life stories of the young hands that help feed America. Perla Sanchez, one of the youth featured in the documentary, will be the keynote speaker at the FESTIBA screening; she will be joined by the President of UTPA and the Consulado de México, who will speak about the hard lives of farmworker youth.

On April 3, the following week, farmworker youth will be participating in a student-led leadership and academic conference, titled “From Harvest to Harvard,” designed to motivate their farmworker peers to continue their education into post-secondary institutions. Students from several school districts in South Texas will partake in interactive, activity-based sessions where presenters will share their personal experiences, and the importance of goal-setting and perseverance, not only in school but in life.

This is our 2nd annual migrant student conference and we feel it is important for the youth to be able to hear from their peers talk about the importance of obtaining an education. The youth conference participants are able to identify with the guest speakers too, who although they are now running companies or have graduated from Ivy League schools, were once in their shoes.

Farmworker children often do not attend school regularly and can fall behind in their studies. The lives of migrant farmworker students are further complicated by their migratory lifestyle. Migrant students typically leave school early and enroll late in the school year as they pursue the harvest across America to supplement their family’s income.

MIA, in conjunction with the Children in the Fields Campaign, looks forward to bringing these organizations and the community together to form a consensus about protecting America’s farmworker youth through advocacy for equal protections. Please get involved and help farmworker youth get their education. For more information on what you can do in Texas, contact me at ochoa@afop.org or visit our website Migrants in Action.

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