By Susan MacLaury
Just a month ago, we posted pictures of Victor, Zulema and Perla, the three American teen migrant farm workers we had profiled in our 2011 film, The Harvest (La Cosecha). We were reintroduced at Shine Global’s 10th anniversary party and over the weekend we had a chance to learn in depth how they were since making this film, the effects it had had on them, and where they currently were in their lives.
It was great hearing how Zulema was a college freshman, Perla was planning to go to graduate school, and Victor was achieving his dream of becoming a car mechanic. Still, we knew that all had family members, some of them younger siblings, a few of the hundreds of thousands still working in the fields with minimal protections.
That point was brought home to me today when a friend sent me this clip about a current Human Rights Watch campaign to educate the public about the poisonous effects of picking tobacco on underage workers. Memories surfaced about our research into this subject, interviews with prospective film subjects, production of The Harvest (La Cosecha), and our screenings on Capitol Hill in 2011 to try to convince lawmakers to vote in the CARE Act (Children’s Act for Responsible Employment) sponsored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard. Both she and then Secretary of the US Department of Labor, Hilda Solis, fought hard, but in vain, for legislative reform for young farm workers.
Human Rights Watch has commissioned multiple investigative studies on the wellbeing of young farmworkers over the last 15 years with some successes. In 2014, some of the major US tobacco growers banned children under 16 from working in the tobacco fields, but excluded older teens from their policies, teens who are still vulnerable to the dangerous effects of tobacco picking. Shine Global applauds them for their continued concern. We believe that the powerful imagery they employ as documentarians will make a difference in the lives of these children and urge you to watch and act.