Migrant Students Make an Impact in the Community through Theater

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

South Texas is home to many of America’s migrant farmworkers. These workers travel up North to harvest the nation’s food in states like Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan, among others. Last month, a small group of migrant farmworker students from the area’s “Children in the Fields” Youth Council performed a play to warn fellow farmworkers about the potential hazards of pesticide exposure. The play, “El Moscas y Los Pesticidas,” had an especially important message that will surely have a lasting and positive effect on the community.

The play the students organized and performed was facilitated by Migrants in Action (MIA). MIA is a coalition of community partners in South Texas which advocates for the rights and privileges of all migrant and seasonal farmworkers by advancing public policy and expanding resources to improve their living and working conditions, health and occupational safety, educational opportunities, and access to equality. The coalition was created as a part of AFOP’s Children in the Fields Campaign and is currently in the process of obtaining its 501(c)3 certification.

In August, MIA was awarded a grant through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to educate farmworkers about pesticide safety in South Texas. The students, who attend United Independent School District in Laredo, Texas, became involved through MIA in the production of the community play. “El Moscas y Los Pesticidas,” which was created and scripted by the EPA, is performed in Spanish and designed to be interactive. The youth council members involved in the production included eight cast members and three members of the backstage crew. Veronica Burgoa, United I.S.D. Migrant Education Program Coordinator, leads the youth council.

The students had no experience in public speaking or acting prior to becoming involved with MIA’s EPA grant, auditioning for the roles only eight weeks prior to the performance.  The students were excited about the opportunity and, although it was the first time many of them had acted, they were confident that they could do it.

After weeks of intense preparation and rehearsal, the cast felt strongly about the topic of pesticide safety and asked the Office of the Mayor to address this issue in the community. Four of the students went to the Laredo Municipal Court House to address the councilmen, along with Veronica Burgoa.  The migrant students-turned-actors expressed to Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas the importance of his and the councilmen’s support in their efforts to educate the community about pesticides.  Shortly thereafter, the councilmen decided to honor the request of the students through a proclamation.

The Mayor of the City of Laredo and the City Commissioners declared October 18, 2012 as “Household Hazardous Materials and Pesticide Safety Awareness Day” in Laredo, Texas. This proclamation was read prior to the performance of “El Moscas y Los Pesticidas.”

The event took place before a crowd of more than 800 attendees at Bill Johnson Student Activity Complex Auditorium. Through the direction of Brenda Llano, the play director, and the hard work and dedication of the cast, the play went off without a hitch.  After the play, the students received award medals as recognition from the school, which they proudly wore around their necks. Brenda Llano was also honored and received a bouquet of roses from the students in appreciation of her instruction.  It was a phenomenal performance by the cast, and the backstage crew did a great job with the props.

“El Moscas y Los Pesticidas” delivers a very serious message  of the dangers of pesticide exposure in a comical manner. Pesticide safety awareness is often a challenge because of the humdrum nature of the topic; however, the script held its own with the comical and culturally relevant content. As a result, the farmworker youth were able to increase safety awareness for families and individuals who work in areas treated with pesticides and broaden the audience’s understanding of the take-home risks, like transferring pesticide residue from the fields through human contact. The students carried out the mission by acting out the amusing script without diluting the importance of message.

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