Sometimes art surprises. We in YAYA were surprised by the film The Fight for Water: A Farmworker Struggle that we screened at the University Unitarian Universalist Society on Thursday, October 2. We had a wonderful audience of about 30 people from YAYA and the community. The film is produced, written and directed by Juan Carlos Oseguera, a Mexican American who grew up doing farm work himself with his family in California’s Central Valley. It is an activist film focused on the current water crisis in the valley, caused by drought but exacerbated by the EPA’s decision to abruptly stop pumping water to this agricultural stronghold, based on an endangered fish species. The result has been loss of livelihood for area farmers and hundreds of thousands of farm workers. FEMA temporarily provided emergency funds for food relief, but the job loss has left people hungry, tied to their homes and their community, but with no options for work. The film’s message to the government is simple: turn the water pumps back on.
Some of us though, were surprised that the people interviewed in the film constantly pitted “environmentalists” against people/farm workers/jobs, but did not discuss the long term sustainability of maintaining an agricultural mecca in a region that is in fact a desert. We noticed that few of the valley residents interviewed in the film were actually farm laborers; most were farm owners and small business owners. This caused us to question the agenda of the filmmaker. Was he truly interested in showing the fight from a farm worker’s perspective, or was he more interested in getting the water turned back on to get the agricultural business moving again? For many of us in YAYA and for many farm workers we know, caring for the Earth and taking care of people are inseparable…one cannot be accomplished without the other.
One of our members, Jonathan Alingu, had the opportunity to visit the Central Valley recently with the National Farm Worker Ministry’s board, and told us that the situation was indeed horrible. Seeing the dried fields and talking to farm workers there made a big impact on him. Some who saw the film also commented on the environmental racism that was taking place in California. We wondered if water resources are being diverted from poor, mostly Hispanic communities but are still provided to more affluent, white communities in the area? The film educated us about a serious crisis affecting farm workers and shed light on the political factors involved in the decision to stop pumping water to the region. I am glad we had this opportunity to learn about the situation and discuss the crisis, and I am also glad that we were able to have a lively, critical discussion sharing diverse reactions to the film.
At the event, YAYA member Heather Bryan also shared about her experience attending the Student Farmworker Alliance’s gathering, Encuentro, in September where students from around the country strategize to support the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s campaigns for better wages and working conditions. Heather was able to attend through a small scholarship provided by YAYA.
Thank you to everyone who generously donated at the film screening to ensure that young people can continue to participate in the actions, trainings, and campaigns to further the farmworker movement. We would also like to thank our hosts at the Unitarian Universalist Society for providing such a lovely location and joining us in the event. We appreciate your hospitality!