Shine Global would like to congratulate Julia Perez, the Associate Director of our documentary film The Harvest/La Cosecha (2011), for being honored with a Latino Spirit Award by the California Latino Legislative Caucus. The Spirit Awards recognize those individuals who exemplify the spirit of the Latino community and have contributed to the State of California. The honorees have been found to have furthered the understanding and acceptance of Latino values, culture and traditions through leadership and service. This year’s recipients include pioneers in film, literature, art and public service, among other categories. Many have overcome tremendous obstacles, rising to become role models and community leaders. Past honorees include: Carlos Santana, Grammy Award winning recording artist; Rita Moreno, the first artist to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award, Dolores Huerta, Co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union and Tom Flores, former coach and player with the Oakland Raiders.

Julia Perez is an electrical engineer and an Arizona native. “I was 5 years old when I started working in the fields with my parents. We lived in 10 different states and I was the first in my family of ten brothers and sisters to get an education and to get out of the fields,” said Pérez. Her personal experience in the fields helped her connect with the families and children she and director U Roberto Romano interviewed over the course of filming. “I was able to relate to these families on a very personal level. I was in their shoes so many years ago and yet, I find that nothing has changed. Young children are still working in the fields and getting exposed to dangerous pesticides which in the long term could have life-threatening consequences. Children simply should not be working in the fields at such a young age and that is the bottom line,” said Pérez.

For ten days each month in the following three years, Pérez traveled throughout the United States interviewing migrant families and their children, asking them questions, capturing their hard work on camera and learning about their hopes for a better future.

“I had a child tell me once, ‘I didn’t know I was allowed to have dreams,'”said Pérez. “For a child to be making statements like this in the land of opportunity was astonishing to me. Our children should be getting an education, not uprooting every season from state to state to work under such brutal conditions,” said Pérez.

Migrant labor is one of many reasons why Latinos are not faring well in education, she believes. High school drop out rates among Latinos continue to worsen and are at an all-time high while college admissions low, but in the migrant community, those numbers are worse.

“Sixty-five percent of migrant children drop out of high school compared to the average Latino student and that is a terrible thing for our community. We are losing future doctors, engineers and lawyers,” said Pérez.

“I think there needs to be a fundamental change in agriculture. We have huge agriculture corporations like Cargill who have annual revenues in the billions and it’s on the backs of many migrant children. There needs to be a federal change,” said Pérez.

The Latino Legislative Caucus is comprised of twenty-seven members: nine Senators and eighteen Assembly Members. It is one of the most influential organizations within the California State Legislature. Its members hold strategic leadership positions and focus primarily on improving the quality of life for working families in California. Currently, due to the changing demographics of California, it is apparent that the issues affecting Latinos in California are issues that affect all Californians.

In 2001, the Latino Caucus saw a need to recognize and honor distinguished Latinos for their contributions and dedication to California and the United States’ economy and cultural life with the annual Latino Spirit Awards. These recipients are outstanding individuals who have greatly contributed to the wonderful music, poetry, literature, journalism, community action, and entertainment of California, the United States, and the world.

For more info please read: