Thursday, September 29, 2011


Will The Cycle Be Unbroken?

An EXCLUSIVE interview with

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     For decades, the news headlines have been filled with horror stories about hazardous and harmful child labor practices in countries all over the world. We’ve read about the terrible working conditions, the long hours and the low pay, yet these articles have always concentrated on countries that seemed light years away from our comfy, cozy world. If you think that you aren’t affected by the exploitation of child laborers, think again.
     The Harvest (La Cosecha), a new documentary from director U. Roberto Romano, spotlights three children (ages 12 to 16) from migrant families who endure the very same hardships that we’ve heard about over and over again in the news, but the major, and perhaps most shocking, difference is that these children are based here in America!
     While the issue of immigration is a hot political topic all across the U.S., the atrocious working conditions of young migrant farm workers is seldom, if ever, addressed by vote-seeking politicians. The Harvest readdresses the situation, giving these children a name, a face and a voice: The Harvest makes the subject matter very real and very human. It is a touching and moving piece of filmmaking, yet the strength and determination of the film’s three main protagonists (Zulema, Pearla and Victor) is ultimately inspiring.
     The film was produced by Shine Global, Inc., a company dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of children worldwide through the production of documentary films. Actress Eva Longoria, one of the stars of the immensely popular TV series Desperate Housewives, came on board as an executive producer, helping to raise enough funds to help complete the film. Longoria has long been an advocate for farm workers and was eager to help raise awareness of the plight of these children, most of whom have never experienced the joys of childhood.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Eva and discuss the film and the ongoing child labor issues here in the U.S….

SPAZ: How did you get involved with The Harvest?
EVA LONGORIA: I’ve been a long-time advocate for farm workers for over 15 years. Shine Global, which is a production company that produces documentaries to bring to light the exploitation of children that is happening all over they world, they chose to do child farm workers in America as their next project. They asked if I would come on board to raise funds to get it completed. I said “Absolutely!”

SPAZ: It seems unfathomable that children are put through such tough working conditions… and at such a young age… here in the United States. This is an issue that has remained quiet for some time. How is it that their cries have gone unheard for so long?
EVA: Every time we show the documentary, people go “Where is this? In Mexico? In Africa?” And we go, “No, no! In the United States!” That’s the main reason we wanted to do the documentary. We wanted to humanize the issue that children are a large labor force in the United States for OUR agriculture. This law, The Fair Labor Standards Act that was passed in 1938 excluded agriculture to protect family farms. Well, today, about 1% of farms are family owned. So, that loophole has allowed for exploitation of child labor here in the United States. Hopefully, we’ll be able to use this documentary as a political tool to get some sort of reform… Not immigration reform because this is NOT an immigration issue and I want to be very clear: it is NOT an immigration issue: it is a labor issue and it is a humanitarian issue. It would be great if it could help us pass some sort of guest-worker program where these people don’t live in the shadows anymore and the kids can go to school and participate as active members of our community.

SPAZ: While the focus of The Harvest is on the exploitation of migrant children, there are many other underlying stories told throughout the film, including that of the struggles of the migrant families in general as well as the economic hardships faced by the farms that hire the workers. But it also shows the love, loyalty and hard work that goes into their everyday lives. Are you pleased that the film offers the viewer a voice and a face to all of these issues… and that it may lead to a better understanding of the migrant family’s life?
EVA: Absolutely. We wanted to humanize it. I can sit here and tell you statistics all day long, but when you see that little boy washing his hands with Clorox every morning to get the pesticides out of his fingernails and off of his arms, something inside of you breaks. There’s no way I could have told you that, but when you see it you definitely have a visceral reaction to it. Also, the fact that we told it through the eyes of the children was very important… because children are raw and natural and honest. There really was no censorship when they were speaking. It was beautiful to see it unfold, at the same time painful. Roberto Romano, the director, and I were talking and he said “The craziest thing, at the end of the day is that they’re happy!” And you think, “How can these kids possibly be happy waking up at four in the morning, working all day, going to school, trying to study, get home and do it all over again?” They are living below the poverty line, not knowing where their next meal is going to come from… You see it’s because they are with their family, and family is the most important thing in the Latino culture. As long as they are together, they are happy. In the film, Victor says “I don’t want to be rich when I grow up. I don’t want to have some amazing job. I just want to be happy.” They don’t define themselves through their work. They define themselves through their culture and who they are, not what they do.

SPAZ: I felt that the very last few frames of the film were very poignant once you realize that this is a cycle that will only continue.
EVA: Yeah. You see the multi-generations in the fields and they cannot break the cycle of poverty because of the lack of education. These kids cannot go to school and they can’t keep up because they have to go to work. An 8 year old or a 10 year old should not be thinking about how to put food on the table.

SPAZ: How can people get involved to put an end to this abuse and exploitation?
EVA: There’s a lot of things people can do. One major thing is recognizing that the problem is an American problem. People say “Oh, those are immigrants, those are not citizens.” If you consume produce, fruit and vegetables, it affects you and you should be concerned about where your food comes from and who prepares it for you. On a smaller level, buy organic. People always say they’ve adjusted the pesticides so they are no longer that harmful to the farm workers. Well, they’ve adjusted the pesticide levels for a 160lb. grown man. If there are children in the fields, it’s still three or four times what their little bodies can handle. They are getting cancer at a phenomenal rate. So, when you can, buy organic because that means that these people who are interacting with the foods are not in a toxic environment. On a bigger scale, you can support the CARE Act. Six times, we’ve introduced it into Congress and it still has not passed. It would put provisions into agriculture that are currently lacking to get children out of the fields.

SPAZ: What would you like the viewer to walk away with after watching The Harvest?
EVA: I want them to walk away with compassion and to have a different perspective and a different point of view.

Thanks to Eva Longoria

Special thanks to Mary Flynn, Rick Rieger and Beth Portello

No comments: