Community Between Borders: 2014 Documentary Work

Return to the United | Andrea Mendoza


Through going on outreach I got to meet Francisco and Esther, long-time inhabitants of North Carolina, but originally from Mexico. Francisco shared the story of how he once, as a child, spent all the money he had buying a synthetic Christmas tree. After returning home his mother was mad because she could have used that money for something more “useful.” But they ended up using that Christmas tree for seven years. Francisco looks at that memory as an important moment in his life, like a dream or path or something that hinted at his future destiny working with Christmas trees.

“When I was little, I don’t know, I would say that I was going to become Santa Claus. And now, I think so, look. Twenty years working with Christmas trees, I got to go to a lot of sales, to Raleigh, to Charlotte, to Georgia, to Illinois. Basically, I learned many things there about what culture means to people from the U.S. or for Hispanics. Christmas trees within the American Union. And it really caught my attention, to work with Christmas trees, because, I don’t know… the essence of life. And that is what has sustained me the most. To work to make families and children happy is what interests me the most.”  - Francisco

Read more of Andrea's project and listen to her audio podcasts here.

The Farmworker Community | Jose Guzman-Ramos & Michael Cohen Cunningham 

Working in the cornfields since he was a child in Mexico gave Rutilio a strong work ethic, plus he needed a job that accepted immigrants and he wanted to make money as soon as possible to send back home. He began working in the tomato fields of NC and soon realized that cutting corn from a stalk was not the same as picking tomatoes and putting them into a huge bucket that was only worth 45 cents. Rutilio wanted to give up, he began to lose hope and began to tell himself, “Well, it’s not going to happen, I’m not going to make it, I can’t do this."  But just as he began to give up, things started to get better.  
Read the blog here.
Watch Jose and Michael's documentary video here. 

Todos Estamos Aquí | Miranda Schartz

She looks young, young enough to still be in high school,  and I spot her several times before deciding to approach her. When I ask her to show me how to pick the blackberries, to show me which ones are best, she hesitates as she explains to me she´s not very good because she´s only been doing this for a couple of weeks. Still, she shows me the ropes and we work side by side for about half an hour, all the while she is telling me about her mom, her siblings, and finally, her music, the music I would later on learn to be her “refuge." I leave her that day to go back to life at the office, and she continues picking in the fields.

Read the blog here.
Watch Miranda's documentary video here. 

Dream Picker | Cynthia Moreno & Kimberly Luna

Xochil is not a typical teenager; she is a hard working student who dreams big. She is seventeen-years old and a junior in high school. Xochil has migrated since the age of 7. During the summer, on a typical day, Xochil wakes up at 5 am right before the sun comes out. She puts on her t-shirt, pants, and shoes then walks to the kitchen to prepare her lunch for work. Xochil packs up a frozen water, juice, yogurt, and Hot Cheetos. After a seven to eight-hour shift, Xochil gets annoyed at looking at orange and red tomatoes.

Even though you work hard every day to get a little bit of money it’s still better if you just get yourself a little bit of education.” – Xochil

Read the blog here.
Watch Cynthia's and Kimberly's documentary video here.

This is my biggest dream | Gabe Pelly


As one of the men I interviewed said, community can be any gathering of people anywhere, a definition I find inclusive and comforting.

For both Manuel and Gonzalo this casita was home for the duration of their visas, home not to a family but to a group of "cuates, amigos." They shared a single bathroom and a single kitchen in their home, living in very close quarters. In my short time at their house I started to observe some of the relationships that comprised their unique web of community. 

Read the blog here. 
Watch Gabe's video here.

Cafe 71 | Sarah Garraham 


An artist by training, Miss Patricia Bryant spends her days on Smithfield’s cut floor. “I see a beauty in Smithfield that others don’t,” she tells me.

“You look up and you got air conditioners above and pipes with different colors and then everything else is metal. And then they have lights so everyone can see what they’re doing. Those lights kind of make the metal shine.”

Read the blog here.

Hard Work and Heartbreak | Devereaux Swaim 


If Filemon were telling his own story, he would say that his life ended three years ago, when he came to the United States to work in the fields. Yet he’s not a pessimist, nor a complainer. You wouldn’t be able to tell just from looking at him that he’s struggling so much, because he’s wearing a huge smile. Perfectly straight, white teeth, and a smile that spreads across his entire face and makes his ears stick out even more. And he’s always smiling. But when he’s away from the rest of the guys, sitting across from me in the mobile unit, he gets serious. His eyes tear up. He looks over my shoulder and talks to the wall, saying "My life is hell” and admitting that “Sometimes I wish that I didn't exist in this world.”

Read the blog here. 
View Devereaux's photo essay here.

Vicente | Luis Acosta and Nick Snow 


Vicente’s life story begins en su rancho where he picked watermelon and tomatoes at the age of 11. He finished up middle school (la secundaria) and left to go work at the age of 16. He found work as an H2A worker in the United States as opposed to picking in Mexico because the U.S. dollar is worth more. He had to work not only for himself but also his wife and three children, whom he describes as the sole reason for being here and his reason to live is for them. The births of his children were the happiest times of his life, he told me. Family seems like the most important thing in his life right now and honestly everyone wants the best for their family and will do whatever they can to ensure that.

Read the blog here. 
View Nick's documentary photo essay here.

Don Francisco | Judith Mendez Segovia 

The first time I met Don Francisco during health outreach, I found a handmade heart on his left shoulder while lifting his sleeve to take his blood pressure. He smiled at me with that cute smile of his and said "I'm going back home in a few years because it's going to be our 25th wedding anniversary. We are going to renew our vows for our 25 years of marriage." I asked him if he was still in love (enamorado) and he shook his head and responded "of course" (claro que si). He said that his favorite thing to do while in the US is to go on walks to talk over the phone to his wife and kids after work is over.  

Read the blog post here.

Community Between Borders | Mackenzie Mann 

Dr.Evan Ashkin is a family physician working at UNC Chapel Hill who has dedicated his work to understanding and serving Latinos—including farmworkers—in eastern Carolina. He described the various communities to which he belongs as those he has purposefully surrounded himself with: his work, family, friends, and town of Durham. He especially discussed the meaning of community in terms of the medical field, explaining that professionalism, egalitarianism, and a common sense of purpose bonds him and his peers at UNC. “It’s sharing this goal of ‘let’s be open to really what’s affecting the well-being of the population that we care for’ and in a very nice way, very collegial, where I feel like people check their egos at the door. So it’s this idea that we are really working together, and it’s not about power or your status… [which is] really unique here.”

Read the blog post here. 

Community Here and There | Vianey Lemus Martinez & Yesenia Yesmin Bustos 

As a farmworker I know what it feels to work long hours. I know what long days, long weeks, and long months feel like. I know what it feels to have the sunrays burning on the back of your neck. I know what it feels to bend down and feel the soil suffocate you. I know how hard it is to work in the fields. Jose Calderon Coronado works in tobacco fields.  He also knows what it feels to work long hours, to work in the sun, to do back breaking labor. However, Jose also knows what it feels to be away from home. He knows what it feels to leave family and loved ones back home. He knows what sacrifice is. He knows what hard work is. 

Read the blog post here. 
Watch their documentary photo essay here. 

Rural Realities | Jesse Smith-Appelson

Down a treacherous dirt road and a few miles of two-lane state roads lined with tobacco and watermelon crops, Charles is at Bells Elementary before sunrise picking out a bilingual children’s book to read to the group of students. The school districts around the I-95 corridor in South Carolina are commonly referred to as the Corridor of Shame because of a documentary film from 2006 that exposed the setbacks and challenges within these rural, poor schools. However, Charles has spent most of his working life in these school hallways struggling to make ripples within the administration, the classrooms, and communities. Charles says that working specifically with a population of students and families that primarily speak a language other than English is a constant learning experience for him and an opportunity for him so see the world through a different “language viewpoint” and cultural perspective. “The town of Denmark in the rural south made me want to go anywhere else… go see the world.” When referring to his childhood, Charles never fails to say “the town of Denmark,” so as not to confuse the small whitewashed churches and southern-drawl with the country of Denmark. He recalls it being a simple place to grow up… “if you were white.” As an adult, Charles furrows his brow when referring to those Southern, small-town churches and analyzes them with a critical eye, claiming that they produce the opposite of community with all their gossip and prejudice. However, he does admit that as a kid, Sunday evening history lessons with the Baptist Training Union sparked a curiosity for the world.

Read Jesse's blog post here. 
Watch Jesse's photo essay here. 

The Passion of Music | Norma Garcia Ortiz & Patti Cortez 

Emilio and Manuel have a dream to better their lives. Manuel wants in the future to be able to have his own store or restaurant. He does not plan to stay a crew leader forever but he does want to be able to still help farmworkers since he once was one himself. Emilio hopes to be able to buy himself a car in Mexico to increase the income of his family by giving rides to those who don’t have cars. 

These men were part of my community this summer. Their work does not require a degree from a university, or extended hours of training, but it does require a hard working person. Both Manuel and Emilio have something that makes them happy and more than that, both stay connected to their community because of it.

Read the blog post here. 
Watch their photo essay here. 

Community Through Networks | Vivian Gonzalez & Victor Gonzalez 

Jeremy shares a story from his first day of outreach:

“It was the first day of outreach and at one of the first camps we go to I’m talking to woman from Guatemala. She answered the door and she was fearful at the beginning and I started talking with her and everything and I explained the services and finally at the end she smiled and said, 'oh you’re not racist, that’s great you’re not…' She was thoroughly happy that I was just talking to her in Spanish as a normal person. And I was shocked but it shed a little bit of light to the reality in some of the rural areas. That a lot of the workers are confronted with racism that can dehumanize them.”

Read the blog post here. 
Watch their documentary photo essay here.