'Blood, Sweat and Berries'

By The Beacon | March 9, 2011 9:00pm

UP student’s film takes an all-inclusive look at migrant worker issues

(Photo courtesy of Scott Hines -- The Beacon)

By Corey Fawcett, Staff Writer -- fawcett13@up.edu

Sympathizing with migrant workers is easy. No one wants wake up at 4:30 in the morning to do hours of tedious, backbreaking labor outside.

However, actually doing the work of migrant workers is a different story.

This didn't stop UP junior Scott Hines from spending a month doing migrant work in the summer of 2009, which he documented in his film "Blood, Sweat and Berries."

The documentary screening, sponsored by the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership, took place in the Bauccio Commons last Friday and played to a crowd of approximately 100 students.

The documentary, which Hines edited all throughout last summer, follows him and three friends (Rex Yabut, Jacob Suazo and Reese Javillonar) as they do migrant farm work in California and Washington. Their goals were to gain a deeper understanding of the issues migrant workers face and to share their experience through film. The trip was inspired by summer service trips they took with their parishes to migrant camps in Skagit Valley, Wash.

"I visited my first migrant camp in sixth grade," Hines said.

In the film, Hines and his friends wake up every morning at 4:30 to drive for an hour and a half to pick green tomatoes until the late afternoon. They work alongside experienced migrant workers, who are primarily from Mexico and pick at an astonishing speed in the scorching heat. They receive $1.05 for every two buckets of tomatoes they pick.

According to Hines, a worker fills 128 buckets per day on average. That's about 16 buckets an hour to make minimum wage.

"I can't imagine doing this every day as a job," another volunteer migrant worker in the video says.

At one point in the film, Hines, Suazo, Yabut and Javillonar wake up early as usual and arrive at the camp an hour and a half later to find that there is no work for them for the day, experiencing firsthand the constant struggle of the migrant worker to find consistent work.

Hines and his friends also visit the migrants' living quarters, made up mostly of mobile homes and trailers. It is common for a single home to house multiple families, and communal bathrooms are the norm. The final shot of the scene lingers on one of the few toilets overflowing.

"It was good to be able to see the faces, the structures they're forced to live in," freshman Katie Plybus said.

The film is broken down into four parts: Our Produce, Our Labor, Our Business and Our Sins. It includes interviews with migrant workers, farmers and people on the streets of Portland – many of whom only have vague ideas of how produce reaches their grocery stores.

The film also addresses immigration and farming issues.

Hines interviews people whose loved ones have been deported or jailed due to immigration problems. In one scene, a priest walks up and down the gates of the nearby penitentiary, holding a sign that says "Leviticus 19:33-34."

The verse reads "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

Two farmers are also interviewed. They explain the unpredictable nature of their work and how it affects the wages they pay their laborers.

"People like to point their fingers at farmers but we all have to work to make things better," Plybus said.

Hines, Yabht, Suazo and Javillonar established a non-profit organization under the same name as the documentary. Its aim is to get young people involved in social justice issues and it focuses on spreading awareness through art. The organization offers scholarships to college-bound high school students who use art to address social justice issues.

At the Friday screening, the power of Hines' film was tangible.

"It's a matter of thinking about it more," freshman Brett Boeh said. "When the guy in the video was talking about all of the work that went into a box of blueberries and the hand that first picked the blueberry, I got chills on my arms."