During National Farmworkers Awareness Week (3/25/2012-3/31/2012), La Salud, the Latino/a Public Health Student organization hosted a screening of “The Harvest/La Cosecha,” a film by U. Roberto Romano and with it brought a pleasant surprise. The Harvest is a documentary about the lives of children who are migrant farm workers in the United States.
Attendees became overwhelmed with emotion as the featured children shared their stories and as the reality of where our food really comes from manifested before our eyes. That was not the surprise. The surprise was that this film screening proved to be the ideal place for a unique experience – an experience that brought together students, administrative staff, and community members.
At the conclusion of the film, the room opened up for discussion. This is where we found out that three community members were present and that they had a direct link to the migrant farmworker experience. Two of them had been child migrant farmworkers themselves, and one was the product of migrant farmworkers. All three community members were highly involved with a local migrant outreach program that provides resources and support to migrant farmworkers in Washtenaw and other neighboring counties.
After sharing their personal stories, the community members inquired about students’ interest and involvement in migrant farmworker issues. Students responded that their attendance was due to their need to learn beyond the classroom and beyond research. This led to a dialogue about the gap between academia and the local community. This conversation was taken even further with the presence of administrative staff from the School of Public Health Office of the Dean as attendees discussed action steps that could be taken to address these gaps.
Some students stated that they had previously written research papers on migrant farmworkers and although they learned many facts, it didn’t quite put the issues in context the way the film and the current discussion did. Many students expressed their desire to have more opportunities to learn about and connect directly with local community members and this was welcomed by the community members’ willingness to partner with the university and its students.
This event was an eye-opening experience for those who attended. In addition to learning about the struggles of children migrant farm workers, something else was very clear:
We all have something to offer and we all have something to learn from each other – most importantly together we can organize and move closer to creating positive change.