This project gallery represents the work of our network of creative activists including media produced by Creative Activist Program members, fiscal sponsees, and Creative Visions Productions. 

Mendota

Jack Ross

The hardships facing agricultural labor in America today are shocking. Voiceless and intimidated, farmworkers live and work in conditions that most U.S citizens would find unacceptable. The vast majority earns well below minimum wage through an insidious combination of “piece-work,” and corrupt labor practices. The life expectancy of a farmworker is often as low as 49 years.

But these conditions are nothing new – Californian farms have always relied on a vulnerable, immigrant population, and to understand the plight of modern day farmworkers, it’s necessary to see the decades of oppression that came before them. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Indians, Okies, and finally Mexicans – each ethnic group was sought out by growers to replace another as they slowly gained a foothold in the culture.

This documentary examines both the present and the past – the lives of campesinos today and the forgotten history of the groups who preceded them. In the present, the film focuses on the farmworker town of Mendota in California’s Central Valley. It also examines the cycles of labor that lead to this moment, drawing on archival photographs and primary sources. It features extensive interviews with farmworkers in their world on and off the job: in the fields, in the trailer parks, in the motels and apartments where people are living ten to a room. It also draws on numerous interviews with experts and historians, like Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation, “In the Strawberry Fields”), John Stauffer, PhD (chair: American Civilization, Harvard University), Rick Wartzman (The King of California, Obscene in the Extreme), Tracie McMillan (The American Way of Eating), and David Bacon (Children of Nafta, Illegal People).