Apr 042004
 
Authors: Nicole Davis

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

tables.

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

honoring them.”

The exhibit, which will be displayed in the Lory Student Center

Art Lounge through April 16, is part of the Cesar Chavez

celebration.

“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

and vegetables.”

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

from done.

“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

country.”

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