Most people will never see them, but they work from dawn until
sunset, live in substandard conditions and get paid well-below
minimum wage to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to people’s
They are migrant workers – the often-anonymous nomads who have
become essential cogs in the American agricultural machine.
“Migratory laborers move restlessly over the face of the land
but they neither belong to the land nor does the land belong to
them,” said a statement by the Presidential Commission of Migratory
Labor in 1951. “As crops ripen, farmers anxiously await their
coming; as the harvest closes, the community, with equal anxiety,
awaits their going.”
However, photographer Celia Roberts hopes to change this
attitude. Through a collection of behind-the-scenes black-and-white
photographs, Roberts exposes what she calls the “hidden culture” of
migrant workers in America.
“I’m hoping to educate the public about the gift that these
people are to our society,” she said. “They harvest 90 to 95
percent of our food. We keep putting them down when we need to be
The exhibit, which will be displayed in the Lory Student Center
Art Lounge through April 16, is part of the Cesar Chavez
“The photos are touching because they really show what the life
of these workers is like,” said Kimi Jackson, an attorney at
Student Legal Services who viewed the exhibit. “It makes you
realize that they are living cheaply so we can have cheaper fruits
The exhibit is composed of images taken throughout the western
United States and shows every aspect of a migrant worker’s life –
the good and the bad.
“If (Americans) were ever to go out in the fields, most people
couldn’t do it,” Roberts said. “They wouldn’t have the stamina or
the skill. These are skilled workers and they are doing work that
we are not capable of doing.”
Roberts’ work was chosen because it really depicted the life of
migrant workers, said David Cessna, assistant director of the
Center for Educational Access and Outreach and a member of the
Cesar Chavez committee.
“Through this exhibit I hope students begin to realize that our
food doesn’t just automatically appear in supermarkets,” Cessna
said. “There are people out there working and working hard.”
Roberts began her work with migrant laborers 12 years ago when
she was commissioned by the Colorado Department of Health to do a
black-and-white study on migrant workers.
Before that she worked for more than 10 years to raise awareness
of world hunger.
“I was stunned to find out that there are those conditions of
hunger here in Colorado,” she said. “It was happening in my back
yard and I didn’t know it.”
After her work for the health department was completed, Roberts
knew that her own personal campaign to help migrant workers was far
“I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just felt compelled to do
it,” she said. “I was connected with these people and I knew that
if I didn’t know about their plight then there must be other people
who weren’t aware either.”
And Roberts has done more than just take pictures. Since she
became involved with the issue she has gotten to know the people
whose lives she is trying to capture.
“All these pictures are so much a part of her,” Cessna said.
“She almost views them like a family.”
And Roberts is doing everything she can to change what she feels
is a social injustice, from creating a calendar to raising money
for various foundations to participating in a boycott of Taco Bell,
which she said has refused to pay a 1-cent-per-pound increase on
the price of tomatoes.
“I think we have so much that we have forgotten our gratitude,”
Roberts said. “If we all expressed our gratitude a little more I
think there would be a shift in the consciousness of this