Student's Documentary Highlights Farm Workers' Community

While many students were having fun in the sun, UNC Sophomore Jaslina Paintal spent her whole summer in a tobacco farm in North Carolina and filmed community life of farm workers.

Paintal has been working on a documentary about the lives of Mexican farm workers as part of an internship with the organization Student Action With Farmworkers—a social justice movement which pairs community members with farm workers in implementing sustainable farming techniques.

The documentary follows the experiences of several farm workers whose families extend beyond their own children to include those who worked and grew with them.

“There is kind of family dynamic there,” Paintal said. “The older farm workers are like father or older brothers.”

Paintal said the workers geniunely cared for others — which she said is uncommon nowadays.

She noted how they receive little compensation when injured in their jobs and are not protected by some labor laws which apply to American workers.

Paintal also emphasized how serious health issues are common among this population.

“Farm workers working on tobacco, which is very toxic. Hit exposure is a problem as well. ” Said Paintal.

The documentary points out that family means a lot to farm workers.

Paintal was inspired by her mom, Fanny Paintal, who used to be a farm worker in 1982.

“She told me a lot of stories about the farm and taught me bi-lingual to help me communicate with more people,” Paintal said while noting that her mom also faced a good deal of racism.

Paintal said she met a farm worker in Sabula, NC., this summer and when they shook hands, the man apologized.

“He said ‘I’m sorry my hands are sticky’ because of the tobacco he picked,” said Paintal.

Paintal said the man told her she reminded him of his daughter, and encouraged her to continue her education.

“It was very moving. We were just met but he was telling me to keep going.”

She said on the last day of filming she distributed discs of photos and videos to farm workers who she had interviewed . On the discs, Paintal wrote the workers names in big letters.

“I feel small, just like the writing on those discs, realizing a small piece of a much larger puzzle of community for justice that we are slowly painstaking trying to build.”

In the film it is apparent the farm workers are working hard to support their real families.

“Four months away from home, then you are back, open the door, your children are greeting you. Oh what happiness is there,” said Ignacio Ramirez Cervantes, a Mexican farm worker featured in the film.

Natalia Lenis, the community specialist in the Hispanic Center of Carrboro said that some of the Hispanic immigrants have known each other since childhood.

“Hispanic community is a very welcoming community,” Lenis said. “Immigrates try to stay together.”

In the past three decades, thousands of people from Latin American countries have moved to North Carolina, making it the second largest minority group in the state. In that time it has grown from less than a half percent to 8.4 percent of the population, according to Hannah Gill, the assistant director of the study of the americas.

Gill wrote in a March 2012 paper that Latin American workers come to the US as economic, political and environmental refugees, attempting to find jobs and a better life for their families.

Gill said North Carolina has more agricultural gust workers than any state. She also emphasized that these workers have not been seen and heard because the majority of them speak little English.

Lenis said that it is very important for immigrants to unite together as a community.

“When you meet the guy from the same country like you, for example, Mexico, you feel like you know him forever,” Lenis said.

“When you are united, you become stronger. You can make your voice be heard and you won’t get hurt.”


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