Laborlore: 2011 Documentary Work

 2011 Fellows' Documentaries


La Vida Diaria | Daily Life

(Robyn Levine, USA, 2011) 2011 SAF Fellow Robyn Levine documents  the experiences of a group of migrant farmworkers who live together and work in the Christmas tree fields in Boone, North Carolina.

La Vida Diaria presentation guide.


Echando la mano | Working with and for Family

(Nandini Kumar, Katie Cox Shrader, and Abigail Bissette, USA, 2011) This documentary explores the theme of family in labor lore: how cell phones connect farmworkers to their loved ones far away, how they distract themselves from loneliness, and how the community in the farmworker camp becomes a sort of family during the long season of work in the fields.



Cosecha Venenosa | Overworked and Under Spray

2011 SAF Fellow Abigail Bissette, in collaboration with Toxic Free NC, made this film highlighting North Carolina farmworker children’s stories of being sprayed with toxic pesticides while working in the fields.



2011 Intern Documentaries

Cada día es una bendición
By Yesenia Leon and Beatriz Cruz

Jesus Rojas is a father of two from Zacatecas, Mexico. He has been working in the fields all his life, in the United States for the last two. He always keeps a smile on his face because he knows that he is making the sacrifice for his children. They’re his everyday motivation and reason to wake up in the morning. He hopes for a better future for them, and envisions his children having an education and living a better standard of life than he has. The work is hard, he recalls, but when you think about happier things it makes you feel a little less like a slave.

“People who don’t really know the trade think that we are ignorant and uneducated. It really frustrates me that they don’t see us as equal humans. I wish they would step into our shoes and see the reality of our world.”

“It’s hard to hear people not understand why we want better treatment. Their simple answer is getting another job. It’s not that easy for me, especially because I am illegal in this country. My answer to them is, it’s not the only option I have but it is the closest to my reach, and it’s my hands that harvest the food you eat.”

By Maria Emilia Borja and Bryan Moorefield

Félix immigrated to this country from Mexico some ten years ago. He found work at a nursery, where he was eventually promoted to crewleader because of his knowledge of English. The promotion was a mixed blessing for Félix as he began to concentrate more and more on the demands of his job and less on his family, which led to problems at home. Since then, he has turned to a newfound Christian faith, his family has returned to his life, and he feels much more "centered" (centrado) in his work and home life. In his position as crew leader, Félix says he feels most fulfilled when he connects with those who work for him, sometimes using his breaks to discuss religious issues with the workers.

“And how unpleasant, right, that after so much money had come into my life and what I supposedly said was a new life, for my own betterment, for the betterment of my family, to give them more security—everything is gone in that very second”.


Made by Hand
By Colton Foster and Joanna Arevalo

Señor Israel Mota or “Tío Mota,” as his co-workers call him, immigrated from Mexico to the United States six years ago, first working in Florida, a state dependent upon its agricultural productions.  Every January he starts the year in this state picking chile, tomatoes, grapes, and cucumber. In late May, he migrates to South Carolina where the tomato season only lasts three to six weeks and then on to Virginia, where he picks tomatoes until the end of October, and back to South Carolina. Finally, he returns to Florida to begin the cycle again.

Two years ago, Mr. Mota was able to see some small changes with new laws enacted in the Southeast that allow him to have access to basic bathroom facilities out in the fields- a significant difference to his daily working conditions.

“When we move it does affect us because sometimes you don’t eat until you get to the place and it also affects us because if we own things we leave them behind. For example, where we live now we’re going to leave things behind when we go.”
“That they value farm work a little bit because it’s very pretty since that’s how all the people eat.”


Searching for an Exit
By Dashiell Huebner and Octavio Garcia-Ruiz

Jorge “El Vaquero,” has worked at a tree nursery in Morganton, North Carolina for eight years now. To Jorge, Mexico will always be his true home, but in order to find the means of feeding, clothing, and caring for his family, Jorge came to the U.S. eight years ago, just as his son turned one year old. When he first arrived in the U.S., Jorge worked in the tobacco fields, and soon after he moved to his current work at the tree nursery.  He possesses expert knowledge of the cultivation process, work duties, equipment, and what is and is not permitted by the grower.  In the fields, there are no breaks. 

“It’s as if being in jail. From work to home, and from home to work. You don’t have distractions. You don’t have anything.”
“The fields are very beautiful. One eats from there, you sow it and it’s beautiful for those who like the fields. I think it’s a beautiful thing.”

Working for an Education
By Dulce Marin and Lisa Splawinski

Alicia and Zenaida Santiago are mother and daughter. They both live in John’s Island in South Carolina with Alicia’s husband and other children. Alicia, Senayda’s mother, has let her work in the fields picking tomatoes. But she’s never stop stressing to Senayda the importance of a good education. Both women struggle so that at least one of them will have a good education, a better and less complicated life.

Senayda’s parents have told her how important it is for her to get an education, and Senayda understands why. After seeing her parents work in the fields, she wants to go to college to become a dentist. She is glad that she had the opportunity to work in the fields to experience how difficult the work is, because it has taught her how much effort it takes to earn such a small amount of money. It also helped her appreciate how hard her parents work for her and her brothers and sisters.

“I think it’s better to go to school than to work ‘cause it’s so hard… I mean, school is hard but if you pay attention it’s not that hard. In [farm]work, I think you work harder, and it’s outside, and it’s hot, and with school… it’s inside with the air and everything.” 


A Short Chronicle of Don Abelardo’s Work
By Cecelia Hinek and Guadalupe Ferreyra

Señor Perez is a fieldworker who was born in Michoacán in 1976. He never went to school because when he was young his father died, and as the oldest he needed to work to support his family. He is the only one of the siblings, however, to go to the United States. When he left, he left behind three children and a wife. Now, after five years of work, he has been able to build a small house for his family. He has also been able to buy small pieces of land over the years so that his family can begin to grow an avocado orchard in his absence. He dreams of going home to his family and beginning to harvest his orchard, to see his children after they have grown up, and to see his home again.

Señor Perez has worked with collards, tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches, chiles, and other greens in the South Carolina area. Every kind of crop has its drawbacks and advantages, he says. The peach, whichever one of ten varieties that he knows of, does not require that one crouch down in order to work (an advantage over any plant that grows close to the ground), but the peach fuzz irritates the skin, leaving red marks, and causes coughing and sometimes allergic reactions. The cucumber and pepper are picked by crouching down, which, after eleven or twelve hours of hard labor, causes severe back pain. The tomato needs to be planted in a labor intensive way, and then stains clothes and hands when it is plucked. Overall, he prefers the pumpkin, because out of all of the fruits and vegetables he works with, the only major drawback is the heat of the sun, which pervades every aspect of farmwork, causing dehydration, dizziness, and headaches.

“When you arrive in this country fear is always there, the fear doesn’t go away. Fear is always there because you know that you’re not in your country, it’s not your country.”

“The number of years I’ve been here is how old the grove is, after six years it starts producing. Next year it will start producing some, so around next year I’ll have a little bit of production if I’m over there because I’m thinking about leaving… it’s all I could take.”


Pánfilo Mejía Valdivia
By Maritza Valencia and Robyn Levine

Pánfilo Mejia Valdivia, originally from Hidalgo, Mexico, migrated to the United States in 1998. After following seasonal crops throughout the southeast for six years, Don Pánfilo settled in Newland, North Carolina.  He has worked for the same patron in Christmas trees for the past seven years. Throughout the nine-month season, he plants, trims and sprays the trees. Don Pánfilo also participates in the harvest, which involves chopping down the tree, wrapping the pine needles with string, and loading the tree into the trailer. His work schedule varies throughout the stages of the season, but he works the maximum number of hours that his patron permits. Don Pánfilo has not seen his family for thirteen years-- whether in person, through video chat, or in recent photographs.  His goal is to return to México and reunite with his family.

“I’m not ashamed to cry a few tears for my children because I’m far away from them. And I know they’re with their mom, their mom has been father and mother but even so I miss them a lot. And I haven’t been able to go. Because I can’t cross. And I’ve said that I’m leaving this July, I’m going to go. I’m going to see them, and oh well, if I can’t cross, oh well. And I trust God that I can cross over there—because they say that they also get caught crossing back, they say.”

“The spray that the others use. I don’t use that spray. I use others for the pine pest. It’s a liquid. That one yes, but I don’t really like to use it. Because it’s very stinky. And you have to be very careful with this. You have to go get soap and water because it stinks a lot. Very dangerous. But, yes. Cancer, with time.”


Lending a Hand:  Labor with and for Family
By Abigail Bissette, Katie Cox Shrader and Nandini Kumar

Don Santiago and his son, Juan de Dios, are regular workers for a tobacco farmer in Lillington, North Carolina. Santiago has worked hard since childhood to provide a better life for his children, and has passed on his values of hard work and devotion to family to his sons. Juan de Dios now works in the United States with his father and brothers to provide for his wife and two young daughters in Mexico. While far away from home, Juan passes the time by drawing pictures of beautiful women, the Virgen of Guadalupe, and Aztec temples. Both Don Santiago and Juan feel that they have gained a sense of family among the men who live and work with them picking tobacco. They spoke of working for family, working with family, working far from family, and how the community in the camp becomes a sort of family during the long season in the fields.

“The most important thing I learned from [my father] is to work really hard. Get my family ahead. That’s what I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot about work from him.”
-- Juan de Dios

“I don’t care if it’s Mexican people, if it’s American people, if it’s people… from whatever country it may be. What I would say is, well, I think that we’re in the United States, we’re in a place that is not our country, and we should work united, together, helping each other out.”
-- Don Santiago

Trust in God All Your Travels and Everything Will be Fine
By Natalia Ospina and Lubella Torres

Hermilo is a tomato picker from Guerrero, Mexico. After attempting to cross the border multiple times, he is currently in Virginia with his girlfriend and 6-month-old son for the 2011 tomato season. He is working to not only support his family with whom he resides but also his family in Mexico. He began working with goats at the age of seven. He would wake up at 6am everyday to feed the goats before going to school. He came to the United States for the first time in 1998 and has since worked in the fields in Florida and Virginia. In the future he hopes to go back to Mexico where he can rebuild relationships from the past as well as start a new life with his new family.

“There are some things that sometimes are very hard… in the desert you’re so confident that you’re going to get here alright… you come through and you think now I’m North. Many say so… I’ve never said it. Some people that come through the desert say… scream… they feel proud and now we’re in the United States… that’s not true. To be in the United States… it’s when you’re already… I’ve always said… when I’m already here working, then I am in the United States.”


The Dream
By Laura Ramirez and Rigoberto Pulido

Agustin Sanchez is a student who works in the summers and attends school the rest of the year.  His family is from Los Organos, Guanajuato, Mexico.  He speaks a lot more Spanish than English, which was one of the worries his mom has. As he spoke more and more about his life as a farmworker, we realized he wasn’t like any student we had met. It’s hard for him to keep up with his schoolwork as he is constantly moving between Florida and North Carolina.  But he saw how his family struggled to make ends meet and he felt it was his responsibility to contribute to the family income. Farmwork is hard work. Agustin couldn’t stop saying that.  He told us it was easy as first because you are a brand new worker and your body isn’t as tired as a farmworker that has been working for years.  Marisol, his mother, told us she didn’t like to see her son in that position but she and her husband didn’t have any other choice but to send him to work.

 “I started working when I was 10 years old. Well, it was very hard for me because I was very little. And I could hardly lift a full bucket. And I’d see all the people filling them up really fast and they would lift them up high. And one time I filled it up to the top and then I couldn’t lift it… I drug it away. And then it emptied out, the entire bucket, I dropped everything”.

“Well, the truck goes into these, they’re called beds, and you go in there, they put them there, and you go in and you have to start, and you have to finish the row before you can take on the other side. And if you don’t, until you finish it. If not, you can’t take another one. Yes, you have to twist it when you’re pulling it so the little leg breaks. If not, you pull out the whole plant.”

"Well, when you’re picking, the sun is really strong, it burns and I think that hopefully the sun’s temperature will go down, and you get thirsty. And you’re drinking water. Sometimes the water is gone but we ask the boss to bring more.”